Elvis or Nat King Cole? Roast lamb or roast beef? Real tree or artificial tree? It’s tough to satisfy the whole family at Christmas time. Just ask any parent on the planet ever tasked with the job of bringing home the right Christmas gifts for their kids.
We all know what happens when we strike out. We get “the face.” You know, the one our kids make when they find the Complete Harry Potter under the tree instead of the Nintendo Switch they’d asked for. Is there anything worse than that?
Actually, yes. Buying a gift for your child designed by the mad scientists responsible for any of these appalling Christmas disasters. After all, it’s our job as parents to keep our children safe … and these toys are anything but.
1. CSI Fingerprint Analysis Kit
Young gumshoe brushing asbestos off fingerprints
It was every budding household sleuth’s dream — to be able to prove, through rigorous scientific analysis, that the fingerprints on the empty Oreo package weren’t theirs. In 2007, with the help of the CSI Fingerprint Analysis Kit, they finally had the tools. Just sprinkle the powder on your crime scene, blow, and voilá — proof that it was your kid sister who stole the cookies!
That was the idea, except the manufacturer of the CSI Kit (Planet Toys) had made the mistake of using a factory in China that cut their fingerprint powder with 7 percent tremolite, a nasty carcinogen and one of the most toxic forms of asbestos known to mankind.
I’d like to report that when Planet Toys discovered their fingerprint powder was poison, they jumped into action and recalled every kit in existence. But the fact is, the CSI Kit wasn’t officially recalled until 2009. Even scarier, I found one on eBay for $24 just today.
Is it still available? Yes. While Planet Toys is thankfully no longer around, its asbestos-laden toy is, so watch out.
2. Hasbro Javelin Darts (aka Lawn Darts)
Hasbro Javelin Darts for sale at poshmark.com
Hasbro’s Javelin Darts were not your average darts. To put this into perspective, if your normal indoor dart was a semi-grumpy porch wasp, the outdoor javelin dart was a giant Asian murder hornet. When thrown at maniacal speeds and with zero skill — the default mode for many juvenile lawn darters — the javelin dart could pierce the skull. And did. A 4-year-old child died in 1970, one of at least two deaths out of the 6,100 lawn dart emergency room injuries on record between 1970 and 1988, when the original darts were yanked off the shelves.
Is it still available? Yes, but only as a vintage set, so chances of running into a deadly lawn dart are very low. You might find the modern reboot of the lawn dart, however. These new darts have blunt rubber heads, which can’t pierce skulls, but look just like the rubber mallet I keep in my toolbox for pounding concrete anchors into my walls. My advice? If you’ve got little kids, steer clear of lawn darts altogether.
An original box of Flubber from the Hassenfeld Brothers, a.k.a. Hasbro, for sale at worthpoint.com
Sometime in the late 1960s, under cover of night, a cadre of Hasbro employees disappeared in a field behind the Hasbro factory and buried 50,000 mysterious translucent balls. (They’d already tried burning them, dumping them, and sinking them in the ocean, but the balls wouldn’t go away.) It was like the plot from some bad ’50s horror movie. Except in this case, the monster was a Silly Putty lookalike called Flubber, a goey, benign-looking substance that, unlike Silly Putty, gave thousands of kids nasty rashes and sore throats.
The Flubber story should end there, but it doesn’t.
After Hasboro buried its backstock of Flubber, it paved the field over and turned it into a parking lot. Thirty-five years later, reports of a “zombie Silly Putty” rising through cracks in the asphalt on hot summer days suggest that Flubber is still around.
Is it still available? No — unless you scrape it off the Hasbro parking lot.
2. Wego Kite Tubes
Wego Kite Tube in action, courtesy of the Mankato Free Press
Anyone remember kite tubing? It was big in the mid-2000s. Not ringing a bell? Imagine a massive, 10-foot-wide yellow beach tube. (I’d say the Wego Kite Tube is actually more of an inflatable “craft” than a tube, or maybe even a blow-up UFO.) Now put your 6-year-old on top, hitch the Wego to a speedboat, and away she goes! That’s your baby girl rising 15 feet into the air like Evel Knievel. Can you see it?
Neither could the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Some 19,000 Wego Kite Tubes were pulled off the shelves in 2006, but not before three kite tubers lost their lives in serious kite-tubing accidents.
Is it still available? Not a chance.
Original clackers circa 1970
You never know where toymakers get their inspiration. The inventors of clackers seem to have been reading too many “Conan the Barbarian” comics when they came up with the idea, because clackers look suspiciously like the kind of skull-crushing projectile Conan would hurl at his enemies from horseback. (There’s actually a word for the weapon I’m thinking of. It’s called a bolas.)
Like a bolas, when you see clackers, it’s not hard to imagine the damage they could do to a human skull when clacked at supersonic speeds — the only speed at which kids clack for some reason. Which is why the CPSC stepped in in the ’70s, the golden age of clackers, to enforce some safety tweaks.
Is it still available? Yes. You can purchase a nonlethal version of the original clackers on Amazon today. But if it’s a stocking stuffer you’re after for your active child, we recommend a kiddie jump rope.
9. Water Beads
UMIKU Water Beads, vase fillers and learning toys
You can find these shiny, spherical blobs everywhere — Walmart, Target, Amazon, you name it — manufactured outside the continental U.S. by companies like Orbeez, Sooper Beads, and Big Mo’s Magic Water Beads, a.k.a., Big Mo’s Jelly Pearls. They’re variously marketed as “vase fillers” and “sensory exploration toys” for children as young as 36 months.
Who wants to debate the logic of giving your 3-year-old a vase filler to explore his motor skills with? Not me. So here are the facts.
Water beads expand when they absorb water (sometimes to 200 times their original size). Oh, and children love swallowing them and sticking them in their ears. We know this because one poor child swallowed a bead that grew in his intestine to the size of a racketball. Another girl gobbled 100 beads and spent the night in an emergency room “voiding” all 100 of them, now the size of marbles.
Are they toxic? Probably not. But are they home décor (masquerading as a learning toy) that can land your child in the ER? Yep.
Is it still available? Yes, everywhere! If you see your little one face down in a Dixie cup mesmerized to the point of hypnotism, they’re probably playing with water beads. If they’re younger than 6 years old, I’d toss that cup.
7. Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab
The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab teaches your child how to prospect for uranium
If you look really hard at the fine print on the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab (above), you’ll see that it comes with a junior Geiger counter, three illustrated books with names like “Prospecting for Uranium” and “How Dagwood Splits the Atom,” and a sampling of “radioactive ores.”
Clearly, equipping a children’s science toy with uranium 238, which the minds behind the Atomic Energy Lab seem to have done, is a mind-bending benchmark in the annals of poor adult judgment. For any children raised in the ’50s who got a Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab for Christmas, please don’t hand this gift down to your grandkids. The half-life of uranium is 4.5 billion years, or the age of the solar system. Your radioactive ore is still radioactive.
Is it still available? No. The Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab was discontinued ages ago, but if the legend surrounding this outlandish toy is true, the uranium in the box will be around for a long, long while.
8. Easy-Bake Oven (2007 Reboot)
The Easy-Bake Oven & Snack Center by Hasbro
The evil geniuses at Hasbro make yet another appearance on our list with the 2007 redesign of their classic Easy-Bake Oven. If you’re not up on your Easy-Bake lore, 2007 was the year Hasbro had to ditch their beloved 100-watt incandescent bulbs due to new federal regulations. Without that classic bulb, some stuff under the hood had to get switched around in order to get the Easy-Bake baking again.
This next part of the story gets technical. Let’s just say the reboot turned out to be an absolute menace for kids. Two hundred fifty child bakers got their hands stuck inside. Seventy-seven others burned themselves (16 of them seriously). In the end, Hasbro recalled nearly 1 million Easy-Bake Ovens.
Thinking about an Easy-Bake for your child? The ignominious end to the 2007 reboot doesn’t mean the Easy-Bake is necessarily dangerous now. But, as we’ll see from our checklist below, don’t stick a gift under the Christmas tree without reading all the warnings first.
Is it still available? Yes. But as long as you buy the model currently for sale, you should be fine. (Do not go searching for the 2007 model on eBay.)
9. Black Panther Wakanda Battle Claws
Wakanda Battle Claws by Hasbro, acrylic fists with finger daggers for your 5-year-old
Bringing us to 2022 are the Wankda Battle Claws, made by — you guessed it — Hasbro. There’s nothing dangerous lurking in the fine print here, no radioactive isotopes, no risk of skull piercing, rashes, intestinal clogging, or third-degree burns.
The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.) added the Battle Claws to its list of 2022 Christmas horrors simply because — well, would you want your 5-year-old running around swatting people (and things) with hard plastic claws the size of their heads?
Our two cents? The Black Panther is an awesome superhero, but this is yet another insanely ill-conceived product from Hasbro. (Are these folks in the Guiness Book yet or what?)
Is it still available? Yes. The claws hit the market in the summer of 2022. We expect they’ll stay on the shelves for another year or two, until the number of emergency room visits prompts a recall.
Dangerous Gifts 2024 W.A.T.C.H.’s Top 10
As we saw from Hasbro’s Wakanda Battle Claws, toy manufacturers still strike out all the time. Here’s this year’s complete list of toys to avoid from the watchdog nonprofit W.A.T.C.H.
Nerf Pro Gelfire Mythic Blasters (eye and face Injuries)
Black Panther Wakanda Battle Claws (eye and face Injuries)
FYI: In 2022, the CPSC has recalled 30 toys in the U.S. All of the products on its list could lead to serious injuries or death — like the Juvo Plus butterfly net, which was found to contain lead.
Our 2024 Bad Gift Checklist
How prepared are you to guard your Christmas tree from the worst the toy industry has to offer this year? Here’s our simple, three-step plan.
☑ Review.Do they have this? Do they need this? Those are the two questions most of us budget-minded parents ask ourselves before we hit the stores at Christmastime. But the holidays can also be the time of year we take inventory of what our kids already have and ask ourselves Is this safe? (You can use the resources in the next step to do a little research if you’re not sure.)
☑ Shop defensively. W.A.T.C.H. publishes its list of dangerous toys yearly. Check it out before you shop. You can also stop by the CPSC’s recalls page for an up-to-the-minute record of toy recalls.1 Remember, if we don’t keep on top of toy safety ourselves, we might find out the hard way.
☑ Inspect and discuss. You’ve done your homework. You know what not to buy, and you’ve read the warnings on the box. Don’t let your children loose with their new toys before you’ve taken a look yourself. As we’ve seen, a brand name doesn’t mean safety is guaranteed. Observe your children playing with their new toys (clackers can be used like a fidget spinner or a medieval hunting weapon), and give them a quick safety talk.
Did You Know? In 2020, around 2,800 little kids in the U.S. ended up in the ER after eating a battery.
It’s easy to get lulled into thinking that if it’s on a shelf at a store (or for sale on Amazon), it’s 100 percent safe. Granted, the toy market is much better regulated today compared to the 1970s or ‘80s and new toys do have to pass tests to go to market. But toy manufacturers still face the same problems designers face with any new product. They can test and test their toys, but until they’re in the hands of actual kids, no one knows how dangerous they really are.
So a good rule of thumb is to make vigilance and skepticism your default mode as family toy inspector. You don’t want to go overboard. Anything from a stapler (finger lacerations) to hoodie strings (choking) can be a potential hazard for our kids. But if a toy can can serve as both a vase filler and a learning toy (like water beads), you might want to scratch it off your Christmas list.
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