As a parent, you’re inundated with pleas from kids and pitches from advertisers trying to convince you to buy the latest hot toys. But as anyone who’s endured a meltdown over a toy that doesn’t perform as expected or torn their hair out trying to put together an impossible-to-assemble play set, you know that not all kids toys are worth the money you pay for them.
How much money are we throwing away on worthless toys? There’s no hard data, but Americans spent more than $19.5 billion on toys overall in 2015, according to the Toy Industry Association, with the average toy selling for $10. Even if just a small percentage of kids toys we buy are duds, that’s still millions of dollars wasted on junk.
Picking the right toys for the child in your life is both an art and a science. You should follow guidelines on age-appropriate toys and pick playthings that promote learning and development, say experts. “The best toys are often the simplest ones — like blocks — because they allow children to be creative and spontaneous,” Vicki Panaccione, a child psychologist and founder of the Better Parenting Institute, told WebMD. But you also need to take into account your child’s temperament, according to Ask Dr. Sears, as well as their interests. And you want to avoid anything that’s unsafe, naturally.
With all those factors at play, navigating the toy aisle can be pretty difficult. While we can’t tell you which kid’s toys are guaranteed to put a smile on your child’s face, we can tell you which ones you might want to avoid. Some of these toys are dangerous, while others are poorly made. Either way, here are eight kids toys that are a waste of your money.
“Trampolines are not toys and should not be used at homes,” consumer safety organization W.A.T.C.H. warned in its 2016 summer safety report, citing the more than 100,000 trampoline-related injuries as evidence for why you should skip this so-called fun activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics also encourages parents not to let their kids play on trampolines at home. While anyone can be injured while jumping on a trampoline, kids under 5 are most at risk, and the dangers increase when multiple people are jumping at once.
“Families need to know that many injuries occur on the mat itself, and current data do not appear to demonstrate that netting or padding significantly decrease the risk of injury,” Michele LaBotz, who serves on the AAP’s Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, said in a statement.
You may have already heard the warnings about Bunchems — colorful balls covered with spikes that can be stuck together to form fun shapes. But in addition to sticking to each other, Bunchems also have a tendency to stick to kids’ hair. Once they get tangled in someone’s locks, they’re apparently very difficult to remove.
“A toy spawned from the darkest depths of hell,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon. “Only buy them if your entire family is hairless,” said another. If your kids can keep the spiky balls out of their hair, this is probably a fine toy, but for younger children, Bunchems may be more frustrating than fun.
3. Land of Nod Octo-Rattle
If you bought an octopus rattle for your baby from the Land of Nod, you’re going to want to take it back. The children’s retailer recently recalled the knit fabric rattles, which were sold both individually and as part of a gift set, because the fabric discs on the tentacles could detach, posing a choking risk for small kids.
The rattles were sold at Land of Nod stores and online between September 2015 and April 2016. They’re no longer available, but if you have one in your home, you should return it to the store for a full refund. And if you spot one of these cute-but-dangerous toys at a garage or yard sale, pass on it and let the seller know it’s not safe.
Hoverboards are a hot toy, but they may pose hidden risks. The self-balancing scooters have been known to catch fire unexpectedly, an issue the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) is investigating. The CPSC is also looking into falls and other accidents linked to hoverboards.
“I am concerned … that the current designs of these products might not take fully into consideration the different weights of different users, potentially leading to the units speeding up or lurching in a manner that a user would not have reason to anticipate, especially a first-time user,” CPSC chairman Elliot Kaye said in a statement in January 2016. You can see a list of specific brands and models the CPSC is investigating on the agency’s website.
5. Aero Spin and Aero Cruz Sky Rover Toys
These remote-controlled flying toys manufactured by Auldey Toys were recalled in June 2016 because the USB charging cords can overheat, which poses a fire and burn risk. The affected products were sold at toy stores, Walmart, Amazon, and other stores between January 2015 and January 2016 but are no longer available. New models currently sold in stores are safe to use, according to the manufacturer.
If you have one of these toys, you can request a replacement charging cord from the manufacturer. If you do come across one of the recalled models in a store or online, don’t buy it.
6. Kid Connection Doctor Play Set
The Kid Connection Doctor Play Set landed on W.A.T.C.H.’s list of the worst toys of 2015, but it’s still available from sellers on Amazon and eBay. The kit’s small parts, including a plastic tongue depressor, present a choking risk, warned the organization.
Any toy with small parts can be dangerous for young children. “Be familiar with the types of choking and ingestion hazards associated with toy injuries and deaths in the past,” W.A.T.C.H. warned. “Check toys for long slender parts, pieces that could easily break off, and soft materials that could be ingested and block a young child’s airway.”
7. Moose Toys Fortune Cookie Maker
This at-home fortune cookie maker by Moose Toys is a dud, according to most reviewers on Amazon. (You can also find the toy on eBay.) Several buyers complained of expired cookie mix, while others said the product just tasted “nasty.” “I wish I could describe how absolutely dreadful the product is,” said one reviewer. “No child deserves this level of suffering.”
“The cookies did look like fortune cookies, but they never dried to be crunchy like a real fortune cookie,” said another disappointed parent. “And a soft fortune cookie is just not something we want to eat. My advice, look up a fortune cookie recipe on the internet.”
8. Velcro Toss and Catch Set
Cheap toys are sometimes just that – cheap. That appears to be the case with this Velcro Toss and Catch Set sold on Amazon. Though the simple toy costs less than $10, many reviewers complained it wasn’t even worth that much. Several people complained about the ball not sticking to the pads, while others said the mitts fell apart easily. While it might seem like a good toy for kids just learning to catch, you may want to pass on this and other similar Velcro catch sets, which also have poor reviews.
“I never write reviews but this item is so bad I had to,” said one customer. “What a total waste of money. It should be at the dollar store for a buck! Don’t waste your money. It’s chintzy and broke within 5 minutes.”