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2011’s 10 Worst Toys

Read carefully before shopping for children

A duck pull toy with a 33-inch-long cord that could strangle a child. A “sword fighting Jack Sparrow” with a stiff plastic sword activated at the push of a lever that could wound a child’s eye. A trampoline whose package insert instructs that it should be used only with a “controlled bounce.” (How do you get a three-year-old to do a “controlled bounce”?) These are three of the toys on this year’s 10 Worst Toys List, compiled annually by the consumer watchdog group World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH).

Founded in 1973 by the late Edward Swartz (LAW’58), the organization is now run by Swartz’s daughter, Joan Siff (LAW’91, COM’92), and her brother, Boston attorney James A. Swartz.

“It would be really nice if one year I could walk into a toy store and not find a dangerous toy on a shelf,” says Siff. “But there are too many out there that aren’t safe. This is a case of buyer beware. The burden, unfortunately, is on the consumer.”

Siff, who left a legal career in 2000 to become president of WATCH, says that as a consumer advocate it’s frustrating to see the same hazards appear year after year—from parts that can break off of a shoddily made toy to toys with edges sharp enough to cut someone. And don’t even get Siff started on toys that have been recalled, but remain on retailers’ shelves. “The first step is always to fix the toy before it gets out into the marketplace,” she says. “Once it’s out there, it’s often too late.”

Case in point: Twist ’n Sort, which made it onto this year’s WATCH list. Certain lots of the sorting/stacking toy, designed for ages three plus, were recalled in October because, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission put it, “the small pegs on three of the four posts can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.” Siff says that despite the recall, her organization found a Twist ’n Sort toy with the same choking hazard on a store shelf.

10 Worst Toys of 2011

In 2010, there were 17 reported toy-related deaths in the United States among children under 15 years old, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That same year, nearly 252,000 toy-related injuries required trips to hospital emergency rooms.

Why aren’t toy manufacturers more careful? Siff says what’s needed is more government oversight and stronger mandatory and premarket testing by the $30 billion toy and game industry. “The burden has to be on manufacturers and retailers, not consumers, to identify the hazards before their products are placed in stores,” she says.

Take the aforementioned duck pull toy with the 33-inch-long cord, which is recommended for one-year-olds and up. The industry’s standard, says Siff, limits the length of strings on crib and playpen toys to 12 inches. But because this isn’t marketed as a crib toy, that standard doesn’t apply.

And then there are toys with warnings that make one wonder if the manufacturer has any idea how young children play. The Z-Curve Bow, another item that made the WATCH list this year, warns, “Do not aim at eyes or face…” and advises buyers that “arrows should not be pulled back at more than half strength….Anyone within close distance to intended target should be alerted prior to firing.”

“What constitutes half strength?” asks Siff. “My child’s half strength could be your child’s full strength. In our opinion, this is a weapon masquerading as a toy.”

So what should a person look for when buying a toy? First, says Siff, read the labeling. All of it. “If a toy doesn’t feel right, don’t get it. If you question any part of it, don’t put it in your child’s hand.” Second, examine the toy. Ask the retailer for permission to take a toy out of the package so you can physically handle it. If the retailer refuses, take that as a warning sign. And just because a toy is made by a well-known manufacturer or sold by a well-known retailer doesn’t mean it’s safe. Avoid toys that have instructions that seem unreasonable or don’t make sense.

Buyer beware.

Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu. Nicolae Ciorogan can be reached at ciorogan@bu.edu.

john o'rourke, editor, bu today
John O’Rourke

John O’Rourke can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

33 Comments on 2011’s 10 Worst Toys

  • Michael on 12.08.2011 at 7:34 am

    This is a joke right? I know you guys have to come up with news every day, but nothing could be more of an embellishment of life than this woman’s job and the WATCH group.

    There are so many unanswered questions that you need to think about like, shouldn’t parents actually be responsible anymore instead of outsourcing the blame to toy companies who don’t maintain a frivolous level of safety standards? Shouldn’t natural selection be a viable part of all of our lives? Shouldn’t we assume that children get poked by plastic objects and various other things out in the world all the time?

    I think we should all be as honest as possible to Joan Siff in saying that WATCH is one of the reasons that people today are helpless flaccid wastes. Please Joan, dismantle your company and donate the profits to children’s healthcare or something because what you’re doing now is only going to hurt them in the long run.

    We can’t let people carry on in this way anymore by indulging them with the possibility that they are legitimate. It is destroying us as a race of humans and we’re all stronger than this

    • Devin on 12.08.2011 at 9:40 am



      • Michael on 12.08.2011 at 11:25 am

        Oh snap, I didn’t know it counted as a charitable organization. Do you think people get tax breaks for donating to them?

    • Chris on 12.08.2011 at 5:50 pm

      “Shouldn’t natural selection be a viable part of all of our lives?”

      Do you know what “viable” means? If so, what are you talking about?

  • Andrew on 12.08.2011 at 8:32 am

    Well this is a bit silly, young children should be supervised most of the time to prevent major injury anyways, and the only way a child can really learn is by doing. There are a plethora of “choking hazards” and sharp objects right outside the home too, so should the solution to that just be to not let kids go outside?

  • Overlord of the Freshmen on 12.08.2011 at 8:50 am

    I seriously feel like posting that chainmail about how our parents grew up with toys way more dangerous, and no one got injured…

    Society has really changed….no one wants to teach their children logic…. Everyone has lost that sense of personal responsibility. I played with toys, and I made mistakes at first: e.g. Sock’em Boppers. The thing that is so amazing about having a brain is that learning curve. Surprisingly, if you make mistakes, you make fewer and fewer as time goes on. Eventually you may even be able to play with a duck pull toy with a yard long string!

    • QFT on 12.08.2011 at 12:19 pm

      Reminds me of how football injuries have increased over the years as more protection and padding (and helmets) have been required. Helmetless rugby players get hurt less because they won’t lead with their heads. Myself, I got a set of samurai swords when I was 12. Sure, I hurt myself (not badly), but afterwards I always had a healthy respect for sharp objects.

  • Ginna Hall on 12.08.2011 at 9:15 am

    It’s obvious to me that the previous posters do not have children, have not supervised children, or even watched children play. As a parent of three, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that our children’s toys do not pose hazards. A toy used improperly is one thing (thrown blocks, etc) but a toy that can hurt or kill a child should be removed from the shelves. Yes, there are choking hazards everywhere and it’s a parent’s job to make sure the kid doesn’t put those things in his or her mouth. But to sell a toy that is the exact size and shape to cause choking, knowing the first thing they’ll do is put it in their mouths, is extremely irresponsible. If toy companies won’t police themselves we need organizations like WATCH to help us.

    • Anonymous on 12.08.2011 at 9:47 am

      how is a child trying to eat a block different than a toy like this. be a parent and watch your kids. people don’t want to parent anymore, instead they expect the government to police everything so they don’t have to be responsible themselves. that way, when something goes wrong, they can claim they did nothing wrong. Our country is soft

    • Mike Saunders on 12.08.2011 at 3:21 pm

      Ginna, I’m the father of five — the oldest is an 18-year-old high school senior and the youngest just turned 5. I find the WATCH annual lists to be comical at best, and at worst, they’re a misleading distraction to actual dangers that injure kids. Most choking deaths are from food, not toys.

      The WATCH explanation for its shaming of the long cord on the duck pull toy is a gem among gems for its lunacy. The toy is a hard, angled piece of wood. It’s not a crib toy! Cutting the string to 12 inches would make it useless as a pull toy.

      Each year this list comes out I silently thank my parents for ignoring it, and hope my kids will do the same when they have children of their own.

  • Don Hungus on 12.08.2011 at 9:22 am

    STIL SHEP LOKK 2 find a RESON 2 belev

    Pretty sure this story has a space in BU Today every year

  • Jonathan on 12.08.2011 at 9:40 am

    This is ridiculous. When I have children I am going to buy them the most “dangerous” toys because my kids aren’t going to be morons. I also plan on teaching them simple logic. This makes me feel sad for society if we need this crap to tell us what to get for our kids. Let kids play. When I was a kid from the time I was four I played outside relatively unsupervised, every few years my territory expanded till I had free run of the neighborhood. Looking back there were plenty of toy “hazards” around my neighborhood and house and you know what I turned out fine probably better because of it.

    • Chris on 12.08.2011 at 10:20 am

      I love it when people who don’t have kids start any sentence with “When I have children…” I don’t care how much babysitting you have done or if you are the favorite aunt/uncle of your nieces/nephews, until you have kids of your own, you don’t know what you are talking about. Parenting is 24/7/365, and you have no idea during that time how many ways your incredibly smart kids are going find to almost kill themselves. Toy makers have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to ensure safety of their products. It can be done. Also, anyone who would uses survival of the fittest and “natural selection” as a philsophy for child rearing, should not have kids.

      • Gabe on 12.08.2011 at 5:54 pm

        “I also plan on teaching them simple logic”…sorry buddy, but it does not work this way.

  • Sam Arcidy on 12.08.2011 at 10:28 am

    Thank you for this informative video. I have never made a comment about one of these videos, but some of those toys were frightening. The Swartz children are remembering their father in a great way. I hope they keep up the good work.

  • croaka on 12.08.2011 at 11:10 am

    I thought the article was so-so as I was hoping for more depth, but I was really amused at the hostile responses. A bit of strawman reasoning going on: I don’t hear anyone advocating that parents abdicate their parenting responsibilities to WATCH or some government bureaucracy. It’s tempting to paint this as the dumbing down or softening of America, but I think that’s overdramatic and, frankly, an excuse to feel smug and superior. I think if toys can be made just as cheaply and fun but more safely, why not? When my nephew lands on his toy sword during extreme playfighting, I’d rather he break his sword then actually end up with a sword in the gut.

  • Jared on 12.08.2011 at 12:12 pm

    I’m probably a bit older than most of the folks posting here (Masters student in my 30s) and I played with metal erector sets, GI Joes, Star Wars toys, Legos, and the ever dreaded rocks and sticks near deadly deadly bodies of water with snakes and alligators. Seriously. I grew up in Miami. My friends and I weren’t idiots, could all swim, didn’t try to cram small parts in our ears and learned that if you poked yourself with a sharp object it hurt and you should probably not do that anymore. Really. If a parent’s dumb enough to say “here junior, here’s the dinosaur thing with 500 sharp points on it, Mommy’s going out” maybe Mommy’s the problem, not the toy manufacturer.

    Where’s the personal responsibility? Active parenting? Paying attention to your kids and making reasonable decisions about their toys? Are these all foreign concepts these days?

    • Vikas on 12.08.2011 at 12:51 pm

      You are absolutely right Jared. May be you can give some wisdom, and WATCH can find something more productive and constructive to do.

  • VV on 12.08.2011 at 12:49 pm

    Any step towards being an absolute NANNY state. Why do parents buy such toys? Where is their responsibility?

  • BM on 12.08.2011 at 2:14 pm

    Some of those toys, like the duck with the string, or the silts are really old toys that our parents or grandparent played with. AND THEY TURNED OUT PERFECTLY FINE!

    You can find any time of hazard in ANY toy! This is just ridiculous! We are just going to end up giving our children a toy Sphere… oh wait that can also be hazardous because a child can through it at another child’s head.

    Just let children be children and play with all these toys that look like a lot of fun and stop saying everything is hazardous.

    When i was a child i played with toys that are similar to each and everyone of those toys shown in the video, and i have yet to have a toy related injury.

  • YEAH on 12.08.2011 at 3:28 pm


  • Mike on 12.08.2011 at 4:54 pm

    I’m glad that when I was a kid, women like this weren’t around to ruin my childhood.

  • syd on 12.08.2011 at 5:10 pm

    This is ridiculous. And I say this as someone who has been a nanny for 3 (almost 4) years, for infants and young children. I understand the choking hazards for really young children, but the dinosaur toy with “too many spikes”? COME ON. there are sticks on the sidewalk that could do more damage, the whole point is that your child needs to learn NOT to hit other kids no matter what, so it shouldn’t matter if they have a spiky dinosaur toy or a teddy bear. Thats actually kind of the point of all these toys, is learning how to use them properly and with self-control. also, as has been said in other posts already, plenty of these things (and much much more ‘hazardous’ versions) were around when i was a kid, and im FINE. all these yuppie parents need to CHILL OUT, and realize that their kids aren’t as “special” as they think they are, and also realize that they actually have to supervize their kids and can’t just give them a toy to play with while mommy has a martini with her friends.

  • Erin on 12.08.2011 at 5:50 pm

    WATCH has been around for a while, and honestly, I think it’s a good thing. A 33-inch string given to a 1yr-old? I mean you can supervise kids as much as you want, but it’s in those three seconds that you turn around that something can happen. Yes, so many things can be harmful that aren’t even toys, and yes, maybe somethings things might seem to go too far. But really, why would you bring things that have known potential for harming a kid? If it’s on a toy shelf, you’re not always going to think things through. Working in retail, there were so many non-parents who bought toys for kids, going solely by those age stamps.

    Also, while we may have made it out okay, it doesn’t mean that everyone else will be just fine and dandy. What our lives may have been like isn’t necessarily what everyone else’s life is like. Just because we didn’t drown in a pool doesn’t mean someone else wont – and that’s one of the leading causes of death for kids (I’m pretty sure).

    Unless you’re a parent, I wouldn’t criticize WATCH. Its intentions are good, and it takes away many chances that some child could suffer. They’re not taking away everything, in fact many things pass.

    • Calvin on 12.09.2011 at 2:15 pm

      “Its intentions are good.” I definitely agree. There doesn’t have to be so much hate and negativity around people with good intentions.

      Sure, you might not agree with the goals of WATCH; then just ignore the group, rather than trying to tear them down.

      Although we might think it’s ridiculous to have this list of toys that pose safety hazards, we should be able to appreciate that some people are advocating for the safety of all children.

  • Dave on 12.08.2011 at 7:41 pm

    Stuff like this breeds helicopter parenting. Also, I don’t want to sound insensitive, but the article mentions that there are 17 reported toy related deaths annually and when you compare that to the total population of children under the age of 15, 60 million, that’s a really small percentage.

    • jaselyn on 12.09.2011 at 8:59 am

      True, but the baseline they are going for is probably zero. Not sure when even a tiny percentage of children dying is acceptable.

  • Rhiney on 12.09.2011 at 12:56 pm

    Irwin Mainway lives! Surprised “Bag O’Glass” and “Teddy Chainsaw Bear” didn’t make this year’s list.


  • Debbie Lowe on 12.09.2011 at 1:56 pm

    Organizations like WATCH are very helpful to ignorant aunts like me. Since I don’t have kids I am not aware of all the trouble they can get into with different toys. And I still have brothers who delight in giving drum sets to their OTHER siblings children.

  • Chris on 12.10.2011 at 2:19 pm

    If your child has not matured enough to play with these toys safely, do not buy them. If your child is mature enough to not hurt himself, then this is a non-issue.

    Problem solved.

    While this video provides an overview of various dangers that this year’s toys have, have they failed to remember that ALL of these toys can be used as weapons? I think we should consider this, and only sell things that have irremovable bubble-wrap. /sarcasm

  • Ginna Hall on 12.16.2011 at 2:18 pm

    I love all the posts that demand that we parents actually watch their kids and not let someone else do the thinking for us while we sit around drinking martinis. Oh, if only raising children were that easy.

  • cribs for twins on 04.20.2012 at 5:03 am

    Thank you for this informative video. I have never made a comment about one of these videos, but some of those toys were frightening. The Swartz children are remembering their father in a great way. I hope they keep up the good work.

  • Mike on 05.30.2012 at 6:02 am

    Todays toys are as safe as ever. People need to take a chill pill and look after their kids. Yes its a handful, too bad deal with it or don’t blame the toy manufacturers! 99% of the deaths are caused by the users.

    Our parents grew up with toxic toys and they are healthier than kids these days. Kids these days eat too much processed and junk food fed to them by their lazy parents! Parents should be more afraid of the food they feed their kids.

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