Maine' Attorney General Janet Mills is sharing information and resources to ensure that the brightly wrapped gifts exchanged this holiday season contain no unwanted surprises and so families can set ground rules for the proper and safe enjoyment of digital devices and other toys year-round. 

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Once families decide to purchase a gaming device, tablet, computer or smart phone, Mills says it can be difficult for parents to keep up with the rapidly evolving array of games, websites and apps that appeal to young people. She says parents should review and monitor what sites and apps their child uses to ensure they are age appropriate.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, a non-profit, self-regulatory organization that assigns age and content ratings for video games and mobile apps, offers helpful tips for parents, Mills says one of the most important of which is to activate parental control settings. Depending on the device or digital storefront, these settings can block certain features such as in-game purchases, access to the internet and location tracking. Step-by-step guides on ESRB.org help parents set controls on video game consoles, handhelds and personal computers based on the ESRB rating. She says you can also ask your local retailer about any tips they recommend.

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Mills offers these websites to help parents and children learn about the most appropriate games and coach smart online behaviors.

OnGuardOnline.gov offers tips to be responsible online.

ESRB.org assigns age and content ratings for games and mobile apps with information to help parents strike the right balance for kids between time spent with electronics and time spent with family, school work, extracurricular activities and other interests.

CommonSenseMedia.org reviews apps, beyond the ESRB ratings, to help determine if the app is right for your child.

NetSmartzKids.org has tips about sharing information online and how to prevent cyberbullying. The American Academy of Pediatrics has established some guidelines for parents in dealing with appropriate limits on screen time and access to media.

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Mills says most toys have a recommended age on the package because they may contain small parts that could choke small children. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has a website with recalled children’s products – everything from cribs and car seats to pajamas and toys. It pays to be aware of items that have high lead levels or other hidden dangers.

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers three pieces of advice to holiday shoppers:

1. Choose age appropriate toys by reading the age label on the toy. For children younger than 3, avoid toys with small parts which can cause choking.

2. Helmets and safety gear should be worn properly at all times and should be sized to fit as falls could be deadly. Never let your child ride a scooter on a street or roadway with other motor vehicles.

3. Children’s magnetic toys are covered by a strong safety standard that prevents magnets from being swallowed. High-powered magnet sets are dangerous and should be kept away from children. Whether marketed for children or adults, building and play sets with small magnets should also be kept away from small children.

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In addition to these issues, Mills says all shoppers should keep these matters in mind:

• Ask about the return policy before you buy.
• Keep your receipts.
• Be aware of Maine’s Implied Warranty as the extended warranty offered at the point of purchase may not be worth buying.
• When buying online a credit card will provide you with better consumer protections than will a debit card
• Monitor your statements and be on the lookout for unauthorized charges.

Questions about these or other consumer matters can be directed to the Consumer Protection Division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office online or at 1(800) 436-2131.

 

 

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