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Deciphering the labels

on September 10, 2015

not for under 3 three toy labelling label age appropriatenessSo what’s the difference between ‘not for under 3’ and ‘suitable for children aged x and up’? We work in toys so for us this is clear and simple, but we get that it isn’t always easy to see the difference. Children will often pick up toys in the shop only for their parents/carers to spot the ‘not suitable for children under 3’ tag and tell them that the toy is ‘for babies’ (I’m guessing they mean three year olds or I’ll have to admit to being even more confused).

I occasionally try to jump in to the toy’s defence and explain that the label is only there for health and safety reasons, to which I can occasionally be faced with a stony stare followed by the parent/carer encouraging their child to find something ‘for older boys/girls’.

Before you assume that I’m just trying to sell them a more expensive toy I should add that the vast majority of the time the toy the child picks first is cheaper than the ‘older toys’ their parents are trying to usher them towards. I think the main issue is that parents are scared of their child getting stuck on ‘baby toys’. I get it, I have two boys myself and it’s not nice to think of them being teased by their friends because it’s not ‘cool’ to like Thomas the Tank Engine’ any more, or because they haven’t moved on to a franchise that’s aimed at kids older than themselves like Harry Potter or Star Wars.

Honestly, I understand why someone might be reluctant to buy what might look like a ‘baby toy’ but at the same time just because the box says ‘3+’ this doesn’t mean that it’s a toy aimed at preschoolers; it simply means that it’s been safety tested to standards that allow children aged three years and over to play with it. The themes of the toy could well be aimed at much older children than that.

This is where the main difference lies, the circle with the crossed out baby that says ‘not for 0-3’ simply means it’s safe for children over three. Toys sometimes have a second label that might say something like ‘Ages 8+’; this is a sign that the manufacturer thinks that this toy is appropriate for children over eight. Sometimes (in fact quite often) this second advisory label simply isn’t there but that just means that the decision about appropriateness has been left up to the buyer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that only preschoolers will like the toy, it simply means that the toy has passed safety testing and conforms to certain regulations that mark it as safe for use by children over the age of three.

In many ways this is linked to the ‘CE’ mark that has to be printed on any toy sold within the European Economic Area (CE stands for Conformité Européenne, meaning ‘European Conformity’). In a sense it’s like being told that your car can reach a top speed of 100mph without your engine running into problems; you could safely reach that speed but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s up to the driver to gauge whether that speed might be appropriate. The little label above simply refers to safety, it has nothing at all to do with recommending an appropriate age at which a child might enjoy it.

Do you get frustrated with health and safety testing and labelling? Do you think we should just use our common sense when selecting a toy for our children? Is there anything that toy companies might be able to do to make this difference in labelling clearer?

I don’t know if this post has been helpful or simply patronising, it seems like a confusing issue and that’s why I decided to talk about today but I apologise if I’ve just spent the past few paragraphs telling you something you already know. If however you still have some questions or comments about this sort of labelling please feel free to comment below, or you can comment over on our Facebook or Twitter accounts. Thanks for popping by (and feel free to check out my own toy blog here), cheers, John

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