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Hot Toys

By Scott Hamilton, MD
November 23, 2022
Hamilton Blog Headshot Updated 12.21.21

Predictions for “hot toys” this Christmas include some perennial favorites: Barbie's Dreamhouse, a car set (Monster Jam Garage this time), and good ol' Lite Brite. But here's the one I want: a 6-foot-long inflatable, remote-controlled, sound-equipped Tyrannosaurus Rex! It scoots around on wheels hidden in its base, roaring away! Jurassic Park in your own backyard!

Fortunately for safety, this dinosaur won't actually eat you (little children may think differently with T-Rex bearing down on them). Every year the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission advise on what toys NOT to buy. These include any gift with small parts if infants and toddlers are in the house. Young kids explore with their mouths, and anything they find will get a good licking and tasting. Should they inhale small objects into their airways, they could suffocate. This is why Lego sets have “WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD, NOT FOR CHILDREN UNDER 3 YEARS” emblazoned on the box.

Other hazardous toys: anything that shoots out an object. The AAP's reasoning is essentially: “You'll put your eye out!”  The scariest gift is any set with strong magnets. While great as building or art sets, if children swallow these seemingly innocuous objects, the magnets can join together in the intestines, cutting off local circulation and causing leaks. Bowel contents contaminate the intra-abdominal space and cause life-threatening infections or bleeding. The same goes for button and disc batteries. These can get stuck in the esophagus and burn through the trachea, the esophagus and even adjacent major blood vessels.

Finally, while kids in my neighborhood ride up and down the streets on electric motorcycles and cars, please, no gasoline powered toys! They're too powerful and fast for children to safely operate. We see these kids all the time in the emergency department with broken bones and head injuries.

For the 1950 Christmas season, the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab Kit appeared on store shelves. Intended for kids to learn about nuclear reactions, it contained radioactive uranium ore (U-238) and Polonium-210. Talk about “hot” toys! You'd watch atomic particles blaze bright trails through the included “cloud chamber,” play hide-and-seek by secreting uranium around the house and finding it with the included Geiger counter and perform other experiments. While the radiation emitted was no worse than UV sunlight (you could get burned!), the set was clear about not breaking the ore packaging and swallowing some, which could be deadly. Years later, Russian assassins would shoot tiny pellets of Po-210 into defectors to eliminate them.

Fortunately for child safety, the kit didn't really sell and was discontinued two years later. It retailed for $49.50 ($530 in today's dollars). This Christmas, with inflation cutting family buying power, parents will be careful about toy spending. They'll want the best “bang” for the play-time buck.

Two toys on lists of the “hottest” for Christmas, mentioned above, are Barbie's Dreamhouse and the Monster Jam Garage playset. These are great for kids to imagine scenarios between Barbie or stunt drivers and play with together. Other good gifts are board games, which develop skills like negotiating, using language to understand rules, and getting along. For nurturing creativity, consider building toys like Legos or art kits like Lite Brite. When kids (and parents) play, one “true meaning” of Christmas comes through: spending quality time together.

The most ludicrous hot-list gift is the Vtech Level Up Gaming Chair. This is a chair for toddlers to pretend to play video games and use tablets, so they can aspire to be anti-social, overweight, screen zombies. I'd rather U-238 in the house!