Simple toys are best for kids, pediatricians say

blocks-kid-with-thomas-eakins-300x177Moms, dads, grandparents and many others will fork over a lot of money for pricey toys this holiday season. But the doctors who care for children have timely shopping advice: Don’t throw away hard-earned dollars on fancy electronics. Instead, look for simple, tried-and-true toys.

Items like dolls, cars, blocks, crayons, and easy games may be more beneficial to youngsters than blinking, whirring, flashing, e-gizmos, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group representing more than 60,000 doctors who care for kids.

The group said in a detailed policy guidance that youngsters need to learn to be social and to stretch their imaginations. Toys that are basic, sturdy, and safe help them do this more so than expensive, complex products.

Grown-ups need to keep in mind, the pediatricians counseled, that toys should be props for kids’ learning, not their central occupation. They should facilitate contact with other kids and adults in critical developmental activities like storytelling and learning basics of language and math skills, not hinder youngsters by leaving them too much on their own, focused on objects, including glowing screens.

Indeed, the group has repeated and underscored its earlier-issued advice on youngsters and electronic device use: The pediatricians urge parents to skip screen time for tots younger than 18 months, allowing it sparingly and only with direct adult supervision between 18- and 24-months, and keeping it at an hour or less per day — again, with close watch by grown-ups — for kids ages 2 to 5. That last group also may start to see benefit, in supervised fashion, from proven educational broadcast programming — think Sesame Street on screen, not much more.

Parents should start early, be consistent, and monitor and limit screen- and e-device-use for youngsters 5 and older. It becomes a whole, separate, and challenging matter, of course, when they hit the pre-teen and adolescent years, where sleep deprivation, bullying, depression, and other anti-social and exploitative and inappropriate behaviors, including by sexual predators, become risks, as does a sort of addiction.

As adults shop for kids this and every holiday season, of course, they should beware of dangers that shoddy and risky products can pose for youngsters, sending almost a quarter-million kids to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of toy-related harms and, sadly, a dozen or so deaths annually. Be wary of toys or their parts that can pose choking hazards. And though boys, especially, beg to start early to become mobile, scooters, tricycles, and even bicycles cause a chunk of toy-related collisions and other mishaps that send kids to ERs.

Consumer safety officials warn that parents may rue their buck-saving plans, if cheaper toys they buy from shady or overseas sellers turn out to be unsafe or poor quality. Adults also need to scrutinize batteries and magnets that are big parts of many products for kids these days. Batteries can overheat, burn, and explode, while magnets get detached and become hazards when ingested.

Don’t let your happiest seasonal plans go up in smoke, by the way. Take extra fire safety precautions with holiday decorations.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services but also the heart-break that results from injuries to babies and children, including those due to defective and dangerous products. A little reflection and clear-eyed recall by many adults might help them and the youngsters they adore: Think back to the most memorable of holidays and best family times. Were they due to costly gifts, over the top celebrations, or trips to venues of excess? Or do you most warmly remember the times and toys that focused on the full love, time, and attention of your most favorite folks when you were growing up?

I’ve got my good hunch what mattered then and now. But if your cup and pocketbook runneth over, the firm and I support some great charitable causes, which you can find by clicking here

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