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Toy Story, Holiday Edition

The Healthiest You Podcast: Episode 3

Healthiest You Podcast - Toy Safety

With Black Friday approaching, now is the time to start planning holiday gift ideas for the kids. Knowing what to shop for and what is age-appropriate is important before scoring those deals.

Listen to Episode 3, “Toy Story, Holiday Edition” on The Healthiest You, where we talk about the best and worst gifts to give kids with Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD, pediatric surgeon with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital and Lehigh Valley Health Network Medical Director of Pediatric Trauma. Learn about toy safety and how to choose the right toy for the kids in your life.

What are the main things gift givers need to keep in mind when they go shopping? What’s the No. 1  toy-related injury our emergency rooms see? Can I trust the labels on the toy packaging? If it says the toy is safe for kids age 3 and older, does that mean it’s actually safe for a 4-year-old? What gifts are the best for encouraging learning and development? We answer these questions and more on The Healthiest You podcast.

Download it from one of the platforms below, or review the transcript further down this page.

About the podcast

The Healthiest You podcast is hosted by familiar voices – Mike and Steph from B104. In each episode they will interview doctors and experts across Lehigh Valley Health Network to learn practical health tips for everyday life – to empower you to be the healthiest you.

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Podcast Transcript


Mike Kelly (00:00):

This podcast was recorded on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 11 a.m.

Steph Wells (00:03):

Things may have changed by the time you hear this.

Mike Kelly (00:06):

Are all toys created equal?

Steph Wells (00:09):

What safety concerns should you keep in mind while toy shopping?

Mike Kelly (00:12):

And which gifts are the best for your child’s development?

Steph Wells (00:15):

All that and more on this episode of The Healthiest You.

Mike Kelly (00:19):

All right. It’s Mike and Steph from B104. Today, we’re talking toys.

Steph Wells (00:22):

All right, Mike. I know you talk a lot about action figures and comic books on the show, but what would you say is your favorite toy from when you were growing up?

Mike Kelly (00:31):

It’s a tough question, Steph. We had a lot of toys growing up. Well, not a lot. Let me rephrase that. My favorite toy growing up was one that was not secondhand. We had a big family of five, so there was a lot of hand-me-downs, but I remember a train set. We had that for a long time. We had HO scale racing cars. That was pretty cool.

Steph Wells (00:49):


Mike Kelly (00:49):

At some point in there, there was a pinball machine. I think my dad must’ve hit the lottery, because that was a big toy. I don’t know where that came from. We had a lot of toys, GI Joe dolls, stuff like that. How about you? What was your favorite toy?

Steph Wells (01:01):

Well, the first thing I thought of was Legos, because I had variations on Lego sets from the youngest age to all the way up. My kids now play with them and sometimes I sneak some away and play myself. But also another big one for me was Barbies. I had a lot of Barbie dolls.

Mike Kelly (01:20):

Yeah, you mentioned Legos. We had Lincoln Logs. We couldn’t afford the Legos. We had something called Tinker Toys, which I think are now extinct, and an Erector set which is probably banned in eight states, because I think it was deadly.

Steph Wells (01:32):

No, they still exist. My kids have them, that’s for sure.

Mike Kelly (01:34):

They’re probably all plastic coated at this point, because it was sharp metal. But speaking of that, we have a special guest here today.

Steph Wells (01:40):

Yes, we have Dr. Sarah Jones Sapienza here with us to discuss toys and gift giving.

Mike Kelly (01:47):

Now, she’s a pediatric surgeon with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, and the Lehigh Valley Health Network Medical Director of Pediatric Trauma.

Steph Wells (01:55):

Welcome to the show.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (01:56):

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Steph Wells (01:57):

We have a lot to get to today, and I think the first thing that we need to address is that, of course, this show is all about toys. So, we have to know, what was your favorite toy growing up?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (02:09):

You hit it on the head. Barbies were my favorite. I had inherited actually a house full of Barbies when we moved into a new home when I was about 5, and so I had the original Barbies from the 1960s and I had 1970s Barbies. And every Sunday, we went out and I got a new Barbie outfit so we could play Barbies all day inside. If we were outside, it was a pogo stick.

Steph Wells (02:33):


Mike Kelly (02:33):

Ah, the pogo stick. Oh, what a great toy. A giant spring with pedals.

Steph Wells (02:40):

Well, now you’re a pediatric surgeon, so did you have any doctor toys? Did you have the little kit or anything like that?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (02:47):

No, actually. I didn’t have any doctor toys, now that I think about it. We had Lincoln Logs, we had Legos, but nothing to play doctor with at all.

Mike Kelly (02:59):

Did you always know that you’d be a pediatric surgeon? Was that something you wanted to be, even as a child? Did you ever want to be an astronaut or a cowgirl or anything like that?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (03:08):

No. My earliest aspirations were a bus driver and a tuba player. But then as I got older, no, I decided to be a surgeon late in life. Once I was already in college with a degree in economics, I decided I wanted to go back and be a doctor, simply because a surgeon had made a tremendous difference in our family’s life.

Steph Wells (03:28):

I got a question for Mike.

Mike Kelly (03:30):


Steph Wells (03:30):

Cowgirl is what you came up with?

Mike Kelly (03:32):

What’s wrong with that?

Steph Wells (03:33):

I don’t know. It’s so many other things. That kind of shocked me.

Mike Kelly (03:35):

I wanted to be a cowboy.

Steph Wells (03:36):

Did you?

Mike Kelly (03:37):

Maybe she wanted to be a cowgirl.

Steph Wells (03:38):


Mike Kelly (03:38):


Steph Wells (03:39):

Do you have little ones that you happen to be toy shopping for this year?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (03:43):

I have a daughter who’s 11, so she is definitely interested in all things messy and social media. She’s interested in slime: slime making, slime scenting, slime coloring. Slime production is really in process in the basement right now.

Mike Kelly (04:06):

Being a doctor and seeing how things can go horribly wrong, do you ever say to your daughter, “Listen, you’re not getting that. It looks dangerous. No.”?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (04:16):

Yes. We joke around at home that we actually keep her just sitting quietly on a cushion because so many things are unsafe. For a long time, she wanted a trampoline and the answer was, “No, no, no. I can’t be the head of trauma and have my child on a trampoline, because she’ll be in the ER with a broken limb.” But with a little bit of research, we found one without springs and with protective netting and a list of rules that she has to sign every time she steps onto the trampoline. Now we have one.

Steph Wells (04:47):

I like your style. My son has been begging for one, so I might ask you for that list after our show today. I really enjoy giving gifts, whether it’s for kids or adults, and there’s something to it. I like finding that perfect thing. I love knowing that the person who I’m giving the gift to is probably really going to enjoy it. Is there any evidence that generosity really helps with mood or health?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (05:15):

Absolutely. Gift giving actually predates modern civilization. And if we go back to a book written by Deepak Chopra in probably the mid-’90s called “Quantum Healing,” that gift giving creates a sense of happiness and endorphin release in the giver. And all of those positive thoughts and hormones create positive chemicals in your body, so it does have a positive effect on the giver, and that’s why we keep doing it.

Mike Kelly (05:49):

Doctor, looking back when you were a child, you talked about the trampoline, I know we had a swing set, a metal swing set that if you swung hard enough, it literally came out of the ground and slammed back down, and everyone had one. We all survived. We all made it through, but that was an exciting part. I love that part of my childhood. What do you say about that when people bring that up? They say, “Listen, I’m getting my child this. I know it may not be the safest toy, but we survived. It should be OK.” What do you say to that?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (06:18):

Well, cars didn’t used to have seat belts, and once we put seat belts in them, they were much safer, so we can apply the same logic to toys. There were things that we did that we did survive, that were not safe or they were not the best ideas, but if you can really avoid having your child get hurt by avoiding that swing set that comes out of the ground, because we had one of those in the backyard too. There are better swings that are out there now that we know are safer.

Mike Kelly (06:48):

And what are some of the main things, if you’re out shopping, what are some of the main things you should keep in mind when you go shopping for these gifts?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (06:57):

The main things to keep in mind when shopping for toys are the age of the person that’s receiving the gift and then their developmental levels. A 3-year-old certainly should not have that Erector set because of the small pieces and the possible danger of ingestion, for example. But the 12-year-old, that may be the perfect gift, so you need to keep in mind the age of the person and then their technical abilities. It’s really humbling to receive a gift that you absolutely cannot understand how to use. It gets put in the cabinet and never looked at again. Whereas if it’s appropriate for the person’s intellect and cognitive skill level, then it’s going to be a favorite for a long time.

Steph Wells (07:48):

No one likes to talk about it, but there’s always that potential for injury when playing with toys. What would you say is the No. 1 toy-related injury that you see?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (07:59):

The No. 1 toy-related injury we see are ingestion injuries from usually magnets.

Steph Wells (08:06):


Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (08:07):

Yeah, toys that have these super powerful magnets. The magnets, they look very appetizing. They’re smooth. They roll around on the tongue kind of nicely. And then next thing you know, you’ve swallowed a handful of magnets that then connect to each other through adjacent limbs of your intestine and then create holes in your intestine, and that’s where we get to meet.

Steph Wells (08:29):

Oh my.

Mike Kelly (08:30):


Steph Wells (08:31):

I didn’t ...

Mike Kelly (08:32):

I’m putting my magnets away.

Steph Wells (08:33):

I was just going to say, that’s scary. Oh my goodness.

Mike Kelly (08:37):

When you go out shopping …

Steph Wells (08:37):

That’s not what I was expecting.

Mike Kelly (08:40):

That’s right. Take those magnets back, Steph.

Steph Wells (08:42):


Mike Kelly (08:43):

Now, listen. When you go out shopping, there’s always a label on there, “This is a recommended age.” It’s always a recommended age for your child and the toy. How much can you trust those?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (08:52):

The recommended age is an important label on the box, but the other important label on the box would be if it’s been recognized and inspected by the Consumer [Product] Safety Commission. You can rely on the age if it’s been inspected by a third party to say, “Yes, that is accurate,” because then it’s been tested and tried and can be trusted.

Mike Kelly (09:19):

Now, the next part we’re going to get about toys is, and I think, Steph, we’re in the same avenue as this, is everything has a screen.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (09:24):


Mike Kelly (09:25):

Everything is video. Everything is electronic. You get to a certain age, my son is 17 and now he has his own money, so he goes out and buys, but everyone’s got a face in the screen. Is that a bad idea? And screen time, should you be limiting screen time? I know growing up, the big thing was television.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (09:43):


Mike Kelly (09:44):

You can only have so much television. You’ll go blind. There were a million things. The radiation will burn your hair out. There are a million rules we had. Is it that bad today, and is there any positive point of having these toys?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (09:56):

We could spend another four hours talking about screens and screen time and social media and the dangers that exist to children and internet predators, but screen time in general also is really age-based. Under 18 months, those are children who really don’t need to be on a screen or in front of a screen, short of FaceTime with grandma and grandpa or some brief interaction like that. As they get older, between, say, 2 and 5, children should be watching or participating in educational activities with a screen. But more effective is if that time involves also a parent’s input when they’re interacting on screen, because children of that age really don’t have the cognitive ability to take that two-dimensional process and turn it into real-life learning.


And then from 5 onward, there are fantastic educational apps that are out there that really have advanced children’s understanding of technology and the intuitive nature of the screens that they’re using. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour a day on the screen. Now that there are children that are using screens at home for schooling, that takes it all off the table. I think if they’re using the screen for school, that doesn’t count into their total screen time. Screen time for fun really should be about an hour a day, because kids still need to be outside. Maybe not on a pogo stick, maybe not on a trampoline, but they need to be outside playing.

Mike Kelly (11:37):

Wait. Let me just back up. Are you saying pogo sticks are bad?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (11:40):

Well, they could be.

Mike Kelly (11:41):

Oh, don’t say that, don’t.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (11:42):

Well, because you’ll get the 17-year-old who will decide to jump off the roof ….

Steph Wells (11:46):

Oh. Shh, shh.

Mike Kelly (11:46):

Well, that’s not really the toy.

Steph Wells (11:50):

No, those are not the ideas we’re going for here.

Mike Kelly (11:52):

That’s not the toy problem. That’s the son’s problem.

Steph Wells (11:56):

You had just mentioned that there are certain apps that are really great for learning, which would then lend to more screen time or whatever, but there are other great gifts that are for learning and for development. What are some gifts that you would recommend?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (12:12):

Again, for thinking about age-appropriate gifts, for the younger children, things that are bright colors that need to be pieced together, that require some interaction, especially with an adult, are really very helpful. We have some of the more popular toys. Any musical instrument that you can tolerate having the sound going all day and all night is actually really a very good toy. It’ll get your child interested in playing some music. Things that cause families to really play together are sometimes the best toys. They create the best memories.

Mike Kelly (12:53):

I love how she said, “Sounds you can tolerate,” because that is a key factor before you go out and get your son that recorder that you did so well, and by the third time, you’re …

Steph Wells (13:03):

You were so proud of yourself for getting said recorder.

Mike Kelly (13:06):

That’s right.

Steph Wells (13:08):

All right. Every year, there is a list which is put together by Good Housekeeping, and they’re mere suggestions of things that you can buy for your child, the hottest toys, if you will. I understand that there is a list that we have of some that are pretty good and maybe others that maybe not. What would you say? I believe two of the ones that you mentioned that are our favorites, for you were the T-ball set and also the Earth science kits.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (13:40):

Yeah, the T-ball set follows that same theme of getting outside. It helps to develop the hand-eye coordination of a child. It is not gender-specific, so it gets kids outside. And really, it’s safe for the children barring, of course, anyone standing too close to the bat, so it requires some supervision. And then the other toy, the science kit, well, I’m a science nerd, so that one drew my eye to it. That shows you how the world actually, and how science, affect the way that the world really works. You can make a volcano explode, grow some crystals. For the right child, it’s the right toy.

Mike Kelly (14:29):

I remember growing up, I loved the science kit. They even made one for electronics. They were fantastic. I ended up building a small, what they call a ham radio at the time, like a CB radio. That was the best toy ever. I am sure at the time though, it probably wasn’t safe or be done alone as a child.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (14:45):

I had the microscope. Same idea. You had the little slides and then the Petri dish and the whole thing. Yeah, same thing.

Mike Kelly (14:51):

What would you look at under the microscope?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (14:54):

I’m not saying.

Mike Kelly (14:55):


Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (14:57):

We did some naughty things with our microscopes in medical school.

Steph Wells (15:01):


Mike Kelly (15:02):

Wait, were you talking about when you were a child or when you got into college? Which one are you …

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (15:05):

Once we were in medical school. It was all for science.

Steph Wells (15:12):

I don’t know. Do you want to do this one? If you had to make a list of the worst gifts to give, what would be on the top of that list or the top three, would you say?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (15:22):

Well, anything that explodes in your face is a pretty bad idea.

Steph Wells (15:26):

Yep, yep.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (15:29):

They make toys that you jump on, an air balloon basically, that then explodes a rocket off of it. That’s a bad idea. Anything that really has a sharp edge. Anything that looks like a sword or looks like a gun, they tend to be on my list of bad things. And then really, the all-time worst toy that was ever made, which isn’t made anymore, is an atomic bomb kit which contains uranium.

Mike Kelly (16:04):


Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (16:04):

But they don’t …

Mike Kelly (16:05):

That was back in the ’60s, right?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (16:07):

Yeah. They got rid of that back in the ’60s.

Mike Kelly (16:08):

I remember that. Yeah.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (16:09):

But it actually contained uranium.

Mike Kelly (16:11):

A little bit of uranium in there.

Steph Wells (16:12):


Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (16:12):

It was my favorite toy.

Mike Kelly (16:13):

Wow. I thought you were going to say the Easy Bake Oven, because I remember the original ones were all metal. Boy, that little light bulb got awful hot. Listen, I know a lot of parents and grandparents love to shower their kids with tons of presents around the holiday. Now, is it possible to give your kid too many gifts? And please, the answer should be, “No.”

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (16:35):

That’s a leading question. It actually, it is possible to give too many gifts, because children can develop a sense of entitlement. They will tear through a pile of gifts without really taking stock of what’s just been given to them, the thought that went into the gift, the fact that it was picked out especially just for them, and then they’re onto the next one. And then they have so many things at the end of the day that they really have forgotten what the first one was, and it’s not quite as special. A great idea for grandparents this time of year are gifts that are more adventures and memories and experiences than things.

Steph Wells (17:17):

So, perhaps membership to the zoo or a day out.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (17:22):

Exactly. Even just a trip to the zoo. …

Steph Wells (17:26):


Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (17:26):


Steph Wells (17:29):

You take the typical holiday celebration. Your kids are super excited first thing in the morning. They’re in a good mood. Midday, they’re maybe overexcited. By dinnertime, whenever you’re having that big meal, they’re cranky, exhausted and kind of just hard to deal with. Do you have tips to keep the holidays sane this year?

Mike Kelly (17:52):

And may I say, I think that applies to adults as well. I don’t think this is just kids. I think everyone kind of goes with that same little swing of emotions.

Steph Wells (18:00):

That is true.

Mike Kelly (18:00):

But what are some tips?

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (18:02):

Well, my first thought was that it’s actually, it’s a good day if you haven’t ended up in the ER. But otherwise, children love routine and schedules, and the holidays, by nature of the fact that they are something special, do not necessarily carry with them routines and schedules. So if you plan to get up at the same time that they normally get up, try to have a little quiet time during the day. At the end of the day, you can always hope that your pager goes off and you have to get into the hospital so that someone else has to deal with the crankiness.

Mike Kelly (18:38):

Don’t you have that saying, Steph?

Steph Wells (18:39):

What’s that?

Mike Kelly (18:40):

“We’re not going to the hospital today.”

Steph Wells (18:41):

Yeah, I do. I do. That is a frequent saying in my house, actually. That’s so funny. I didn’t even think about that. Well, that’s awesome. Really great advice, and certainly, we hope that you have a wonderful holiday. And thank you so much for being on the show today.

Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD (18:55):

Thank you for having me. I’ve had a good time.

Mike Kelly (18:58):

Hey, to have a safe holiday, we not only encourage toy safety, but COVID-19 safety as well.

Steph Wells (19:03):

Please check out guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Health before making holiday plans.

Mike Kelly (19:10):

We each have an important role in the health of our community. Do your part.

Steph Wells (19:13):

And remember, be safe, be smart, and be the healthiest you.

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