In the early days of parenting, when all toys were bright and cheerful, when television shows were filled with funny songs, silly dances, and playfully nice characters, and when advertisers had a limited effect on my son’s wants, I reveled in a blissful state adoring my innocently calm, flourishing child. Little did I know, a few years later, the bliss would be replaced with a quietly intensifying internal panic as my three year old son barreled towards the army men in the aisle of the toy store, pining for the plane with the bombs, picking up action figures with oversized muscles and equally oversized weapons, desperately seeking toys with “shooting guns”. Where did I go wrong? I think to myself. When did my easy going, peaceful child become enthralled with all things violent?
I hurriedly reviewed our days together and tried to pinpoint the turning point, but to no avail. I wanted to figure out how the gun switch got turned on so I could turn it off. This newfound interest was unsettling me and I found myself struggling to accept his desire to play with those particular toys. Questions flew through my head: If I condone war play and gun slinging am I somehow saying it is O.K. to hurt people? Won’t this make him too violent? Will he start hurting other little kids? What if he ever gets his hands on a real gun (God forbid) will he try to use it? I worried that pretending to kill in the “Bang, bang! You’re dead.” sense would detach him from his emotions and shoot down his ability to empathize with others. Being a parent in the years where school shootings seem commonplace, the evening news unfolds like a crime novel, and turning on the radio informs us of more deaths associated with our war on terror I didn’t think my worry was overkill, but was it?
Toy guns, military figurines, bomb dropping planes and all the play associated with them did not belong in the peaceful, nurturing, educational environment I set out to create for my child. I wanted to reject them from our home. In my mind, they had no value and would not in any way contribute to my growing son’s well being. But his interest was not going away. Between DNA and relentless marketing I realized I was fighting a losing battle so I surrendered. During an unplanned trip to the dollar store, where he had asked me to buy toy guns before, I gave him a three dollar budget with no strings attached. As I anticipated, we left with three guns. One cowboy-like shotgun and two army machine guns. All three equipped with piped in gun sounds that rang in my ears for days. Each of the guns broke, one by one, for various reasons associated with the handler, and as I learned to deal with his desire to play with guns, he learned about the durability of cheap toys. Nevertheless, those broken toy guns stuck around for quite some time. To a boy whose mom made no bones about her disinterest in gun play, I guess half a gun was better then no gun at all.
Over the years more and more toy guns have been added to his mounting arsenal. He has a Storm Trooper gun, a few cowboy guns, several guns that shoot rubber or plastic darts, rubber band shooters, and water guns. I participate in his gun play from time to time. We chase each other around the yard and the house. He creates dramatic scenarios and gives me detailed instructions on what to say, how to move, when to use my gun and when to put it away. We laugh as we run about and we bond.
Once I stripped away the negative emotions I attached to real guns, I was able to see that he is just a little boy enjoying a toy.
Similar in many ways to a little girl enjoying countless baby dolls, but because dolls aren’t viewed as “dangerous” we don’t tend to overreact and think things like: Oh, if I get my daughter all these dolls, she’ll end up getting pregnant too soon. If I condone such nurturing behavior she might have too many babies herself one day.
The world we live in can be ugly sometimes and protecting our kids from violence and danger, striving to maintain their innocence as long as we possibly can, is enough to make most parents understandably gun shy. After a considerable amount of thought on this topic, I have come to appreciate two things:
1. By saying yes to gun play I am not saying yes to violence.
2. It is the environment in which a child is raised in, not the toys in which he plays with, that will ultimately impact his behavior and mindset.
My son is raised in a nurturing, supportive, peaceful environment where his opinions count and his feelings matter. If a conflict arises we communicate, come up with solutions and implement change together. His toy guns are merely objects, tools if you will, that allow him to play and to imagine. His desire to pull the trigger of a toy gun will no more make him a shooter of real guns then crashing his hot wheels cars together will turn him into a crazy, out of control driver. Just as he has experimented from time to time with drawing on our walls or his body will not translate into vandalism or extreme tattooing. Once I was able to take away my adult sized concerns from his child sized imagination toy guns really did become just toys in his toy box. Toys that will likely lose their intrigue and mysticism one day, and truth be told, after a few short years they already have.
Published on Mommies Network August 2009, Natural Child Magazine Sept/Oct Issue 2011