Holiday Shopping: Are You Buying Toxic Toys?
7 mins read

Holiday Shopping: Are You Buying Toxic Toys?

You know the card you get in your child’s toy package that you are supposed to fill out and mail back to the company so you can be notified of a safety recall?  I have shamefully never filled one out in my 18 years of parenting.  Not one.

In 2007, the number of toy recalls that originated in China was staggering.  We did some research and this is just a very few of the items recalled four years ago:

  • Thomas and Friends play sets (painted with lead paint)
  • Sesame Street (lead paint)
  • Press and Go Cookie Monster
  • Sesame Street Shape Sorter
  • Dora the Explorer and Diego (lead paint)
  • Dora’s Talking House and various figure packs
  • Birthday Dora
  • Vamoose Van
  • Blues Clues- three pack figurine
  • Little Tykes Animal Shaped Flashlights (excessive amounts of lead)
  • Boppy Pillow Slipcover (excessive lead and they can break and create a choking hazard).

A Boppy pillow slipcover?  Are you kidding me? You mean to tell me that while I was suffering bleeding nipples and hourly feedings I was actually putting my newborn in danger? I have owned all of the above products, but that one really hit a nerve.

In 2009, it was estimated that in an effort to reduce costs, many mass-producers of toys chose to locate their factories in areas where wages are lower. For example, no less than 75% of all toys sold in the U.S. are manufactured in China.

With the holiday season upon us, I have begun to question what toys I will purchase for my children.  To paraphrase my brother in law, “What, are you going to do, cancel Christmas?”  No, the holiday isn’t the problem.  The problem is so overwhelming – with layer upon layer of issues – that I can’t sort it out in my head.

 Do I want safe toys?  Do I feel like they must come from the United States?  If the United States doesn’t manufacture the Dora doll that’s at the top of my daughter’s wish list, do I cross it off and find an alternative toy, or just relent?  Does the possible increased price of a toy made in the US offset China’s cheaper labor enough to convince me to purchase it?  Do I want to support US workers all the time or just some of the time?

Last year, my husband and I purchased about 75% of our children’s toys online from companies who guaranteed their products were made in the United States.  The biggest hit was the doll clothes and the Cabbage Patch clothing sewn by hand by a woman named Bev. She was so loaded down with orders for Christmas that our top picks were sold out. I thought that was spectacular.

Being that our children have an extended family of 30 or so relatives, we tend to go light on the gift-giving from Santa.  Experience has taught us that at the end of Christmas Day, the van will be filled to the top with opened gifts, dinner leftovers, and three very tired girls.

Many of the toys that end up broken or ignored by New Year’s Eve are the very same ones we carted home in the van on Christmas day.  I feel guilty throwing them away. I even feel guilty re-gifting them. If the toys aren’t good enough for my own kids, who am I to say whether they are good enough for someone else’s?  I can’t help but notice that most of these plastic treasures are manufactured in China.

We’ve gotten to the point that when relatives call to inquire about what our children want and we feel comfortable requesting something educational. They comply, but also throw in a morsel of kaleidoscopic eye-popping colors in the form of a scantily clad Barbie with stilettos so tall that in real life she would trip because her scrawny neck couldn’t possible support that bobbled head.

Would it be totally overstepping our bounds to request toys made in the US only?  How does one broach that subject with their mother in law?  Furthermore, just because it is made in the United States does not guarantee it won’t have a safety recall later. It all comes back to that little card you are supposed to mail into the toy company upon purchasing their product.  But what if I move?  How long will they keep forwarding my recall notice for?  What if I change email addresses? Am I supposed to re-register every toy we own when we do move?  Am I the only mother who obsesses about these concerns but never really mails in the card?

Now I am really reaching. Let’s just get rid of all the toys tonight while everyone is sleeping.

Remember that little girl who attempted to fly her plane across the country? Jessica Whitney Dubroff died in 1996 while attempting to be the youngest person to fly an airplane across the United States. Twenty-four hours into her quest, her small Cessna plane crashed after takeoff. She was killed, as was her father and flight instructor. (I will add, that she was not the one flying the plane at the time of her death, so let’s not make that part of this debate.)

I remember when they interviewed her mother, she said that she and her ex-husband rarely gave their children toys, but gave them tools instead.  She didn’t mean a hammer. I believe she meant items that would make them think for themselves, be inventive, and put building blocks in front of their children on which they could mentally climb to reach a higher goal.  The media went crazy over her statement and parents everywhere were claiming the child was abused.

I didn’t think that.  I loved the concept of giving my child a “tool” instead of a toy.  Easier said than done.  We’ll be placing our order for hand sewn doll clothes in the next month.

While you sort out your own system of gift giving and the meaning of Christmas that you want to teach your children, we wanted to share with you the following sites of children’s toys made here in the US:


What are your family’s traditions of gift giving? How you choose to address this challenge? And please, we would also love some reviews from you on the sites we have posted!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments