The fleeting distraction they provide isn't worth the surprising costs.
Walk into any toy aisle and you'll be bombarded with flashing lights, shrieking sirens, and blaring music. Battery-powered toys are hugely popular, promising distraction and entertainment for young children, even if these toys drive parents a bit crazy with their incessant noise.
Just because something is popular, however, does not mean it's a good choice. Beyond their glitzy facades, battery-powered toys have a number of serious shortcomings that should make any parent reconsider walking down that aisle. Here are some things to think about.
1. They can cause hearing damage.
All noise-making toys are required to meet acoustic standards set by the American Society of Testing and Materials. These state that a toy cannot exceed 85 decibels at a distance of 50 centimetres from the ear. But how often do kids play like that? Michelle Woo wrote for Lifehacker, "Kids get much closer than 50 cm to their toys. Arm’s length is about 25 centimeters (or 10 inches)." Those cute little Luvimals pictured at the top, for example, have a decibel level of 88.1 at the ear. To be safe, check the Sight & Hearing Association's annual list of noisy toys.
2. They don't challenge kids enough.
The vast majority of battery-powered toys excel at distraction and entertainment, but this only lasts temporarily. A kid needs to feel inspired or challenged, but a battery-powered toy with the same repetitive functions cannot provide that. Focus, instead, on buying toys that are open-ended, that don't decide what or how the kid is going to play. As Jenn Choi wrote for Quartz, "The best toys focus on what the child can do, rather than what the toys can do."
3. They are wasteful.
From an environmental perspective, battery-powered toys are a nightmare. They're all made from brightly colored molded plastic, which is difficult to recycle (it isn't even accepted in my small town). These toys require endless batteries that are expensive, come in non-recyclable plastic packaging, and then must be replaced and recycled themselves.
4. They can be dangerous to health.
A 2018 study from the UK found that the plastic in second-hand plastic toys made overseas often does not meet current international safety standards, and most battery-powered toys are plastic. Health Central reported:
"Many of the products – typically those that were yellow, red, or black – contained high concentrations of hazardous elements that can be toxic to children over an extended period, even at low levels. These elements included antimony, barium, bromine, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium."
Better options include natural materials, such as wood, metal, rubber, leather, wool, and paper; or stick with non-battery-powered plastic toys whose eco credentials you can trust.
Favorite toys at my kid-filled house include some plastic, but lots of other materials, too: Lego, Magformers, wooden marble run, a mini china tea set, an indoor tent, puzzles, wooden train tracks. We have heaps of metal Tonka trucks outside and shovels for digging. Metal watering cans, buckets, and a tap transform the play area into a mud zone that delights the kids as much as it exhausts me. Balls, sticks, bicycles, and winter sleds are other great sources of entertainment.