MONEY Debt

4 of the Weirdest Reasons People Have Gone Into Debt

Girl surrounded by stuffed animals
Maarten Wouters—Getty Images

These cautionary tales show how NOT to handle your finances.

For more than a decade, I’ve worked in the field of debt resolution, helping thousands of people overcome their debt issues. Most clients come to me in debt due to what I would call “typical” reasons for falling into debt. This includes loss of income or unexpected medical issues in the family, which become difficult to manage when there are bills to pay. However, sometimes we see some unusual situations that led to debt, which I call “doozies.” Here are some doozies that top the list.

1. The Child Spoiler Client

A few years ago, I had a client with a large amount of credit card debt. So as we usually do with clients, we discussed the reasons for the debt. He put his chin down, looked away and said, “Really, this is because of my child, she’s my only child and I just can’t say no.” These expenses included private school at 5 years old, and horseback riding lessons at almost $2,000 a month. The compulsiveness – or, really, obsession – with his only child had put him into debt. He was spending more money on her every month than his mortgage and car payments combined.

My Advice: Stop the horses! Overspending will put you in debt, whether for you or others. Learning to say no, instilling good spending habits and limits will keep you off that pony ride.

2. The Dream Wedding Client

A couple came to me shortly after their wedding. They said they had a lot of credit card debt, and had expected to be able to pay it off after the wedding. When they told me they had $75,000 of debt, I asked how the amount got to be so high. They said they felt that their wedding was important to them and they never budgeted the expenses and just assumed they would rely on gifts to pay off those expenses from the wedding. They told me that they didn’t expect some of their relatives to be so “cheap” with gifts and as a result they received less money than they expected. They then fell short on paying the bills.

Furthermore, falling behind on your payments will also hurt your credit score, which causes a number of issues, including making the cost of debt more expensive for you over time. (You can see how your debt is affecting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

My Advice: Take a tier off of the cake! Make a budget and stick to it. Never rely on future money to pay off bills.

3. The “Don’t Tell My Spouse I Have Debt” Client

I was a bit surprised when one client came to me and said, “My husband doesn’t know about this debt so you cannot call my house or send any paperwork there.” This scenario really isn’t that uncommon. One partner has debt and the other has no idea about the debt or if they do know, they don’t know how much is really owed. These clients have even given me lists of times we can call and alternate addresses to send paperwork to. For these clients, the trend to keep secret debt often starts early on in the relationship where one has a credit card outside the relationship and begins to spend and not tell the other. This infidelity continues until the one partner simply doesn’t have the funds anymore to pay the bills and they are forced to come to us to resolve it for them secretly.

My Advice: Avoid financial infidelity at all costs. Communication is a key element in any good relationship, and talking to your partner openly and honestly about finances is no exception and can actually keep you out of debt.

4. The House Flipper Client

A few years ago I had a steady stream of clients who came to me after they lost money in attempts to flip houses in places like Florida and Vegas. They told me that their friends made money doing this so they thought they’d try it, too. My flippers believed that they could purchase a cheap house in a short sale and invest in improvements and then sell the property for a profit. While this is a great idea if you’ve budgeted for time post-construction if the house doesn’t sell, it can jam you financially if you don’t have the money to pay the bills until the house is sold. Which is exactly what happened to them when the market fell out. They couldn’t sell the house in a short time and they were left with a house they couldn’t afford and mounting debt.

My Advice: There are lots of good ideas to make money, but before making any attempts, make sure you’ve done your homework and are prepared to handle the worst-case scenario.

Remember, maintaining good financial health can come down to good old-fashioned common sense. So many of these “doozies” could have been avoided had many of these people simply taken the time to stop, think about what they were doing, and focus on the reality of spending and budgeting.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

TIME technology

Most American Kids Are Now Growing Up In a Home Without a Landline

The domination of mobile technology continues

Bad news for Luddites and nostalgics: for the first time ever, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the majority of American children live in homes without landlines.

According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 52.1 percent of all children — more than 38 million children — were living in a home with only cell phones, which is a five percentage point increase from the second half of 2013, reports Market Watch. Around 103 million adults — or 43.1 percent — had only wireless phones in their homes.

The decline in landlines could also spell trouble for the CDC. The survey was conducted because the NHIS tracks how many households are using cell phones and how many are using landlines, in order to determine how the CDC carries out its telephone surveys. According to the co-author of the report, Stephen Blumberg, associate director for science in the division of health interview statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, mobile phones present a challenge when conducting surveys by telephone. Blumberg noted that mobile numbers cannot be electronically dialed, unlike landlines, which increases the “manpower” needed to conduct surveys. What’s more, cell phone numbers are not registered and it’s nearly impossible to determine which individual owns which number.

[Market Watch]

TIME Parenting

How to Talk to Your Teen About Sex Abuse

Peter Cade—Getty Images

A Planned Parenthood vice president weighs in on the importance of keeping your kids informed

As an educator and the mother of a teenager, I was shocked and angry to hear that a high school teacher in my New Jersey neighborhood was arrested in September for sexually assaulting five male students. Recently we’ve seen stories of sexual assault charges brought against football players in another New Jersey town, a Brooklyn high school teacher arrested for inappropriate behavior with seven students, a Dallas-area high school teacher arrested for sexual assault of his 16-year-old student, and a California school district arguing in court that a 14-year-old girl could be held responsible for a sexual relationship with her adult male teacher.

No one wants their child’s school experience to include inappropriate sexual behavior, harassment, assault, or rape. It can be an extraordinarily difficult topic to think about, let alone discuss with our teens. However, news stories like these present an opportunity to have critically important conversations with our children.

Planned Parenthood believes parents should be the primary sex educators of their own children—and that means addressing stories of abuse or assault in schools directly with our children, rather than leaving them to draw their own lessons from what they hear from friends or on social media. In a perfect world, we would introduce tough topics on our own, based on our children’s questions or their maturity level. But our kids live in a fast-paced electronic world, and shielding them from the news is simply not an option.

Read More: See how books have presented sex ed throughout history

Data collected this year by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU shows that most parents are talking to their children about some topics, such as how to handle peer pressure or the importance of not pressuring others, but rarely about how to deal with inappropriate actions by adults, particularly adults that are supposed to be guiding and mentoring them. So how can we initiate conversations about these sensitive and troubling subjects?

First, ask your children what they’ve already heard, and listen to what they tell you. Don’t jump in while they’re talking and interrupt them with factual corrections — yet. It’s important that they feel their perspective is valued, and you’ll know what you need to address in response.

Read More: Resources to help you talk to your kids about sex

Next, educate them by providing the facts. Here are some things to know to help you prepare:

· Sadly, most sexual abuse is committed by someone known to the victim. When a trusted adult like a teacher violates their role to protect, the child often has trouble making sense of the situation; many young people assaulted by people they trust may not even realize this is abuse. Be clear that any adult who engages in sexual activity with a minor is engaging in criminal activity. Encourage your child to tell you and another adult in the school if they hear about anything inappropriate between students or staff.

· Boys are also sexually abused. Many people mistakenly believe that sexual assault is a problem that affects only girls, but the truth is 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. For more information, visit 1in6.org.

· People who sexually abuse others often do so to intimidate or manipulate their victim. Sex should never be an assertion of power over another person, and young people should know that it’s not their fault if a trusted adult acts inappropriately.

· Teach your kids to report inappropriate behavior. The best way to confront or prevent abuse is to report it, including when teachers, coaches, counselors, or administrators violate boundaries by acting more like friends than authority figures. If your child sees or hears anything suspicious, they should tell you and a guidance counselor or another teacher.

The most important thing is for your children to feel comfortable coming to you with their questions and anxieties. If you speak openly with them about difficult issues, they’ll know they can come to you if they ever hear about anything inappropriate happening in their own schools or social networks. And you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from correcting your children’s misconceptions about assault while showing that you are willing to talk about tough topics with them.

For a deeper look at the crisis in sex education and why schools are struggling to keep up with the what kids learn from the internet, read TIME for Family’s special report on Why School Can’t Teach Sex Ed.

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TIME Family

What to Say to Your Kids When Holidays Aren’t Happy

Victoria Penafiel—Getty Images/Flickr RM

This season can be tough on grieving families

The holidays are full of advertisements of perfect families enjoying perfect moments. And because the celebrations come every year, they’re full of memories, both good and bad.

For both these reasons, the holidays can be especially hard for people who are dealing with a life that is much less than perfect, in the midst of loss, grief, pain, or disappointment. And those tensions can be especially confusing for kids, who often feel things deeply, but don’t always have the language to express those feelings.

We talked with Rob Zucker, grief counselor and author of The Journey Through Grief and Loss: Helping Yourself and Your Child When Grief is Shared, to learn what parents can do to help kids cope with loss in the midst of the holidays.

Elementary age kids “are very sensitive to the emotional realm,” Zucker says. But they don’t always know why they feel the way they do. And they’re still trying to figure out how a loss will affect their world, like the six-year old boy Zucker worked with who asked, “Will we still have Christmas?” after his grandmother’s death. For a parent who is also grieving, the questions young kids ask can be tough to deal with. But Zucker says they can also be seen as an opportunity to help kids start to put their feelings into words, and try to make sense of the changes in their world. So be open to questions.

Late elementary and middle school kids are beginning to grasp some big concepts surrounding loss. But that understanding can lead a lot of anxiety, Zucker says. Older kids can reason, “if grandma died, then grandpa might die.” It’s important for them to be able to share these feelings, Zucker says. So encourage them to talk freely when they begin to open up about their sadness or worry. But it’s also important for parents to assure kids that life is about more than loss. And the holidays, while they can bring up sad memories, are also full of opportunities to celebrate life, by asking questions like what good times they remember, or what good times they’re looking forward to.

High school kids “can really struggle with managing intense feelings,” Zucker says. And at the same time, they take a more intellectual view of loss than other kids, which can lead to them making comparisons between their lives and the idealized ones they see in advertisements. Zucker suggests that parents work through this tension by creating a story that honors the uniqueness of their family, even if it looks different than what kids might see in glossy advertising: Parents and kids can do this together, Zucker says, when parents start conversations with questions like “What is unique about our family? What do we want to celebrate about who we are? What is special about our story?” The goal, Zucker says: to give kids a chance to say: “This is who we are.” And no matter what is happening, “we celebrate the love in our family.”

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TIME
TIME Sports

Here Is What a Group of Toddlers Have to Say About College Football

Some incredibly high-level analysis, mostly about badgers and bulldogs

ESPN gathered a group of very young (but clearly very well-informed) sports analysts to discuss who should win this year’s Maxwell Award, given to the best player in college football.

The conversation mostly centered on team mascots, eliciting smart responses from the panelists like “I don’t like the badger” and “He’s a doggy” and “I like the ducky.” Even smarter than these comments, though, are the panelists’ outfits. One rocks a sharp blue bowtie and a velveteen blazer, for example, while another goes for smart but sensible in khakis, boat shoes and a crisp sport jacket.

Man, we’d watch ESPN so much more often if it featured more toddlers.

TIME

Punishing Kids for Lying Only Makes Them Lie More

Young child sitting in corner as punishment
Getty Images

Kids who are given a moral reason to tell the truth tend to do so more often

Do you punish your children when they’re caught in a lie? That’s what many parents do, but a new study from researchers at McGill University suggests it might be time for a different approach. The study finds that kids reprimanded for lying are more likely to bend the truth, while kids who are given a moral reason for truth-telling tend to believe that honesty is the best policy.

Researchers traced the effectiveness of punishment in 372 kids between the ages of 4 and 8, finding that children were less likely to tell the truth when threatened with punishment, and more likely to tell the truth when they thought it would please an adult.

In order to gauge the implications of punishment on a child’s propensity to lie, researchers placed each participant alone in a room with a toy, and asked the child not to peek at the toy for an entire minute. It’s hardly surprising that curiosity got the best of most children, with 67.5 percent peeking, and 66.5 percent of those who peeked going on to lie about it. (Note: older children were less likely to peek, but were also more likely to lie about peeking after they’d done so.)

“Children often lie to conceal transgressions,” says study researcher and McGill professor Victoria Talwar. “Having done something wrong or broken a rule, they may choose to lie to try to conceal it. After all, they know they may get in trouble for the transgression. Thus, punishment doesn’t have much of an effect. It doesn’t deter them from using the strategy of lying to try to get out of trouble.”

So, how should parents go about encouraging their children to tell the truth when the impulse to lie is so strong? McGill’s study indicates that kids respond best to a strong moral appeal for honesty. Younger children were inclined to tell the truth to make an adult happy, while older children were inclined to do so because of their own internalized definition of right and wrong –– facts that might come in handy when your little one is caught red handed with the leftover Halloween candy.

“Threats about punishment are not deterrents for lying, and they do not communicate why children should be honest,” says Talwar. “If a child is playing with a ball in the house and breaks your vase but tells the truth about it when asked, you should recognize that he came clean. He may still have consequences for his transgression, but the child learns that honesty is valued.”

These findings reinforce a more progressive approach to parenting, and indicate that it’s better to explain truth-telling to children using positive reinforcement than the threat of harsh consequences. “Globally, we generally think of lying as a negative behavior,” says Talwar. “However, we sometimes fail to recognize the positive behavior –– honesty. If a child is confessing his transgression, we need to recognize that he was honest.”

Read next: Parents Should Try Being Present Instead of Perfect

TIME

Tech Tips To Keep Your Kid’s Belief in Santa Alive

Christmas tree surrounded with gifts
Tom Merton—Getty Images

"Don't Stop Believin'"

It’s that time of year! There’s a chill in the wind, bells in the air, eggnog on the menu and a strong probability that your kid will pick up The Truth About Santa on the mean city streets or in a first grade classroom.

Yes, Virginia, there is a chance that some December you’ll send your child to school and have his beliefs in Santa crushed right out of him by some truth-speaking sibyl spreading the gospel of disbelief on the lower school playground. While preschoolers and kindergartners are usually insulated from these malicious magic-busters, because most of the tiny tikes still believe that Jolly Old Saint Nick keeps track of who’s naughty and nice in some massive Google doc at the North Pole, first or second graders are a different story. When kids leave the cots of kindergarten, the ranks of the True Believers start to thin.

As much as some parents (myself very much included) want to keep the magic of the season alive, kids these days are a wily lot, seemingly born with a natural sense of skepticism about anything that’s not plugged into the World Wide Web. Luckily, there’s technology that can help parents keep even the savviest youngsters believing in Santa just a little bit longer.

Reindeer cam

In a holiday twist on the internet classics of corgi cams, pitbull puppy cams, and sloth cams, this handy website shows a steady stream of Santa’s reindeer just chilling out in their barn at the North Pole. Youngsters can watch the reindeer eat, drink and be merry while preparing for their big night pulling Santa’s sleigh. They can even wait for Santa to make a live appearance at regularly scheduled times.

Watch here: Reindeercam.com

North Pole Radio

iHeartRadio just launched a new radio station hosted by DJ Santa Claus playing Christmas favorites all day long. Between Vince Guaraldi classics and modern twists on carols, Santa and his elves provide commentary between songs. Plus, there’s a call-in phone number (929-BIG-ELF1) for kids to leave their Christmas requests, which Santa will be playing and responding to all month long.

Listen here: North Pole Radio

Kringl App

This one blew my kid’s mind last year and I fully plan on using it again. This free app uses your phone’s video camera to superimpose Santa into your very own living room in just a few quick steps of technological magic. You simply open the app and follow the directions that include filming for a few seconds, applying some easy-to-operate effects and you suddenly have indisputable proof that Santa exists. (Just don’t ask me how it works!)

More info here: http://www.kringlapp.com/

Norad Santa Tracker

For more than 50 years, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and its ominous-sounding predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa’s Christmas Eve flight ever since a local media ad encouraged children to call Santa directly, but misprinted the number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the crew commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. The rest is history. Now, kids around the world can follow Santa’s flight on NORAD’s website, which has been translated into eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese. There’s also a mobile version, a holiday countdown, games and daily activities.

Watch here: http://www.noradsanta.org/

Portable North Pole

This website is awesome, but it does require an ability to stomach uploading personal information. Enter some details about your child (first name, age, city, Christmas wish) and Santa will deliver a personalized message that will bring a smile to your kid’s face. I have done the free version for the last three years, but fudge my son’s birth date, don’t upload a photo, and don’t enter credit card information. The result is a video that is magical enough—filled with elves, Christmas cheer and Santa reporting on your child’s behavior and relaying your little one’s Christmas wish while giving a tour of his North Pole workshop. It may be more magical with more information, but no one has stolen my kid’s identity yet. Sadly, there are enough scammers out there that we all need to be careful.

More information here: Portable North Pole

Call Santa

There are several ways to have Santa remind your child to stay on his good side until Christmas. There’s the Calling Santa app, the Parents Calling Santa app and the Video Calls with Santa app all of which let kids have a little chat with the Big Man himself. But again, be careful with your personal information. These apps probably work best on younger children who are less likely to question Santa’s internet connection. There’s also Christmas Dialer, which you can use to deliver a message from either Santa or one of his elves. A pre-recorded message is free, but premium ones cost money. This also works for unsettling your grown friends who might be wondering why an elf will be watching over them each night.

More information here: ChristmasDialer.com

Google Santa Tracker

The search giant has launched its annual Santa Tracker, which, like NORAD, maps Old Saint Nick’s Christmas Eve travels. The site is also acting as a digital advent calendar unlocking new games and activities each day as we countdown to Christmas.

Watch here: Google Santa Tracker

@Santa Twitter

For the truly tech-savvy kid, Santa is tweeting @Santa and there’s no doubt he’s in touch with what’s hot with kids these days.

TIME viral

Watch an Adorable Girl Start an Impromptu Dance Party at a Subway Station

Ah, the pure joy of youth

The underground music scene in New York City — underground as in the subway system, not secret clubs — is characterized by a wide range of quality. Sometimes it seems like all it has to offer are mariachi bands that insist on playing only on those days when you have a splitting headache, got caught in the rain and just found out that your dog died. But occasionally you stumble upon a gem. This video from a Brooklyn station is precious not as much for the band’s rollicking version of the Grateful Dead’s “Me and My Uncle,” but for a small, bespectacled child’s joyful dancing.

The girl’s roof-raising jig gradually inspires a small hootenanny of strangers coming together in unfettered joy. At one point, her glee escapes from her in the kind of scream reserved only for the highest moments of elation.

Five minutes later, surely, all those people smashed themselves shoulder-to-shoulder into the human equivalent of a cattle truck. But for those two minutes, her joy was the center of the universe.

Read next: When It Comes to Frozen, This Dog Can’t ‘Let It Go’ Either

MONEY online shopping

How to Stop Facebook from Ruining Your Holiday Gift Surprises

Wrapped bicycle
Michael Blann—Getty Images

Parents who shop online—so all parents, basically—need to know how easy it is for kids to find out what they're getting for the holidays.

Every week, it seems, there’s a new scandal about email passwords being stolen or retail customers’ data being hacked by stealthy cyber criminals. Yet such incidents represent only a teeny-tiny slice of how our online behavior is spied upon and used. In the vast majority of cases, our data is tracked and used in entirely legal ways by search engines, social media, retailers, and advertisers. Legal or not, the repercussions of such tracking—and the ads that inevitably follow—can feel like an ongoing privacy violation.

What’s more, targeted ads come with the potential of revealing secrets about what people have been searching, browsing, and buying online. While the results are generally not nearly as devastating as identity theft, they can create tense situations. In probably the most notorious example, a father found out his high school daughter was pregnant only after Target had sent her coupons for cribs and other baby products—offers that were based on her shopping history.

This time of year, the relentless stream of targeted (also known as “interest-based” or “retargeted”) ads that pop up in banners or on the side of web pages also come with the potential of ruining a holiday gift surprise. Say a mom does some browsing online for presents for her son. Soon thereafter, the items she viewed start showing up in ads on the device that was used, along with ads “inspired” by her browsing history.” If and when the would-be recipient hops on the same device, he’ll see all of those ads. Without much sleuthing, he’ll be clued in about what mom was shopping for, and he’ll have a good idea to expect the new Nike high-tops, game console, or whatever come December 25. So much for the big reveal.

It’s unclear how often this scenario plays out, but it’s a possibility some parents worry about. “I guess you have to pick btw letting your kids use the computer and shopping online, since custom ads follow you and spoil gift surprises,” one mom tweeted recently. Last year the founder of Marketing Land wrote at length about his wife’s frustrated attempts to stop banner ads from Macy’s, ThinkGeek, and other retailers she shopped from popping up on the computer she often shared with her kids.

It’s not just parents who worry about blown surprises. One Reddit user recently posted, coyly and excitedly, that her longtime boyfriend had been getting engagement ring ads in his Facebook feed. Surely, she felt, this was an indication that he was getting ready to pop the question. One commenter followed up with a story about a friend whose boyfriend also was flooded with engagement ring ads before he proposed. Then, as soon as she changed her status to “engaged,” she was slammed with weight loss ads offering to provide assistance “fitting into your dress.” Naturally, the baby-related ads followed after the wedding took place.

“You’re stalked with ads related to what you’ve been shopping for all the time,” says Bruce Schneier, an internationally renowned computer security expert and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Security. Nonetheless, Schneier thinks it’s probably “a rare occurrence” for people to correctly deduce what they’ll be getting as holiday gifts based on the ads they see on a shared computer. “When a kid sees an ad for an Xbox, he’s probably just going to think I want an Xbox, not Mom got me an Xbox.”

For that matter, the presence of these ads is no indication of whether anything was actually purchased. As an Al Jazeera column about “curated” and “retargeted” ads noted, consumers can be “stalked by socks” and other items they browsed while shopping online regardless of whether or not they purchased the goods, or whether they searched for such goods randomly, as a goof, or out of genuine interest. “Personalized ads can be right, but they’re often wrong” in terms of being truly appealing to the right set of eyes, Schneier says.

Most e-retailers offer consumers the right to opt out of being subjected to tracking and retargeted ads, but Schneier thinks doing so is a waste of time. Not only are the processes for opting out convoluted and filled with loopholes, there are so many digitized eyeballs monitoring your online activity that successfully negating them one at a time is virtually impossible.

It’s much better and more effective, he says, to install a tool such as Adblock Plus (which blocks some or all ads according to filters checked by the user), Privacy Badger (which automatically blocks trackers or ads that it deems to violate “the principle of user consent”), or some combination of several blockers. Others recommend shopping online in private browsing mode; when using Google Chrome Incognito, for instance, the browser doesn’t save a record of what sites have been visited, and therefore (theoretically) there should later be no retargeted ads that surface as a result.

If you’re dealing with an especially stubborn child or spouse who has a history of noticing what online ads foretell in terms of holiday gifts, you might want to try a different strategy: Spend some time here and there clicking on all sorts of items haphazardly, or purposely browse for things you know he’d absolutely hate to receive on Christmas. The resulting collection of retargeted ads is likely to be so random, nonsensical, and disappointing that it’ll throw him off the trail and he’ll have no clue what you actually bought.

As a bonus, you’ll simultaneously be messing with the retailers, browsers, and other bots that generate these annoying ads in the first place.

MORE:
What Should I Do If I’ve Been the Victim of a Data Breach?

TIME Parenting

This Toy Is to Blame for a Huge Surge in Child Injuries

Injuries involving toys increased by 40% percent between 1990 and 2011

Toy-related injuries have risen dramatically over the past two decades — and one type of toy is largely to blame.

Injuries involving toys increased by 40% percent between 1990 and 2011, a new report from Clinical Pediatrics found, with about 3,278,073 kids sent to emergency rooms for toy-related injuries over the two decades, or about 149,000 cases per year.

The toys most likely to lead to injury: scooters, and other ride-on toys. The popular wheeled toy accounted for 42.5% of admissions to hospitals between 1990 and 2011 and 34.9% of injuries in children.

The report is the first nationally representative study in toy-related injuries over time, though the Consumer Product Safety Commission examines injuries annually. In the two most recent reports, scooters top the list of the most dangerous toys for kids.

In a statement to USA Today, the president of child-safety advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide says parents can help keep kids safe by buying age-appropriate toys and protective gear like helmets and knee pads with scooters and bikes.

Read next: Top 10 Toys of 2014

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