Friday, March 25, 2011

Lock & Load

From a 2007 UK Daily Mail online article

A couple of days ago, a friend posted this as her Facebook status:

It makes me sad to see little boys who only know how to play fighting, guns, chase and whatever other aggressive tv-related things. 

Her words gave me pause. I had been mulling over something similar the past week, and only after seeing her post, did I feel prompted to want to write about them. 

I've noticed that in the last couple of months my son has been focused on gun play, and I'll be honest - it unnerves me.

Some of the gun play has been rather tame and almost comical. At breakfast the other day, EZ turned his french toast into a gun that shot more pieces of french toast out of it. Somehow, that type of gun play seems absolutely fine with me.

I mean, really...the world can always use more french toast

However, it's when the play turns more dangerous, and (in my mind) more sinister, that it stirs up some uncomfortable feelings for me. EZ might use his fingers or some pieced together Legos and out of the blue go "bam bam bam! You're dead!"

I'll be honest, my stomach totally churns at those words. It really doesn't feel all that great to hear and watch your kid pretend to kill you. Even though we both know it's all pretend, it's still disconcerting for me to absorb.

Beyond these moments of gun play (and by moments, I truly do mean brief instances...less than a handful of occurrences on some days and none on others - yet enough that it's clearly bothered me) he's the same joyful boy. He'll just as easily sit and color, or play in his kitchen (or help cook in the real one!), play with his race cars or play "family" with his dolls.

He isn't smearing camouflage paint on his face and hiding in the front yard to ambush the mailman.

What it comes down to (as it does most parenting/kid issues) is that I just end up having too many questions: Where is it coming from? Is it really an innate behavior? And if I squashing it by discouraging gun play? Is there a way to encourage his innate behavior without involving gun play? my "perfect world," my son wouldn't be interested in violent activities and guns and other items that promote destruction. No, in my utopia, he'd be the one with the flower.

I stumbled across the UK's Daily Mail article that I linked to above while searching google images for a picture for today's post. (Which, by the way... googling "young boys, guns" returns more uneasy pictures than I wanted to see on a Friday morning). Despite being from 2007, the article references reports stating that pretend weapon play in boys allows for healthy and safe risk-taking. The article continues to say that because of "political correctness," preschools (and parents by default) are denying these boys their natural instincts.

Another article that popped up amidst my search was this editorial from PBS, that shared six things parents can do to ensure toy gun play doesn't get out of hand. While most of these suggestions are common sense, they're at least a starting point for somebody like me who is caught between being completely uncomfortable with guns/gun play and not wanting to squash my son's innate curiosity.


I'm sure if I spent some time, I could find articles and books on both sides of the debate here. I am sure there are excellent arguments for encouraging pretend weapon play and for curtailing it.

Right now, I've chosen neither path as I struggle to deal with my own feelings regarding it. Basically, we're in an ignore and distract pattern, since the gun play in our house is not that frequent, but I know I need to develop a better strategy if it is only going to increase.

Interestingly enough, my husband isn't as concerned. He says that he played "guns" when he was younger and it didn't affect him negatively. And, I have to agree. He's an incredibly peaceful, non-violent man, so it's easy to get dragged over to his "no big deal" mindset.

We recently had our near-the-end-of-the-year conference with our son's teachers, and I brought up my thoughts, wondering if they encounter pretend gun play in the classroom, and if so...what do they do about it.

Both teachers noted that it's not incredibly prevalent in the classroom, but when it does happen, they offered various strategies. One teacher mentioned that he reminds the kids that they're in a safe space, and there's no real need for guns. I like that approach, and perhaps will try it out if the opportunity arises with EZ.

His other teacher suggested re-branding his pretend gun as a "love gun." And while the idea is appealing, I'm not quite certain that I'm ready to unleash my son and his "love gun" onto the unwitting public.

Surprisingly, googling "love gun" was tamer than I feared it would be

If you've had experience with boys and gun play, I'd love to hear your thoughts...  


onecreativemama said...

Great post! Although we are only two years old and have only seen a gun (a Super Soaker water gun) once, for sure I will run into some of these same issues. The first being that the Papa is into guns and by that I mean he learned how to shoot at targets and small game when he was a boy with his dad. The second being that we currently live adjacent to a conservation area that allows permitted hunting. Hunters park on our road, wear blaze orange gear, carry huge rifles and the sound is deafening. Our little will know what guns and shooting are but presently it only is in regards to hunting and the bonding/rite of passage for a young man with his papa. I take a deep deep breath when I imagine what will come along with watching violence on T.V. or our little being in a social setting where conflict and peacemaking in whatever forms they arise are inevitable.

Lex said...

I've drawn the line at actual toy guns (including water guns and miniature Lego or Playmobil guns) and at "shooting" at people who don't want to be shot at/aren't "playing." But if my boys create guns out of sticks or Lego or cardboard (or their fingers!), and engage only in consensual shooting, it doesn't really bother me. No, it's not my favorite game, but nor does it seem especially alarming to me. I think weapon play of some kind can definitely be an expression of instinct, and since guns are the main current day weapon, it makes sense that we'd see more "gun play" than "bow and arrow play" these days. With my first kids (twins), they called guns "fire shooters." They were aware of them (not from TV or any live-action media, sheltered firstborns that they were) even before they knew what they were called. I don't think they learned the word "gun" until kindergarten. Baby #4 (now 21 months) already knows how to make a stick into a gun and "shoot" it, courtesy of his big brothers' superb modeling. And at this point in my mothering career (8 years and four boys in), I feel very much unfazed by it all. Just don't point that stick at me (because I am not playing), and please clean up the "blood."

A. Mama said...

@Abbe - thanks for chiming in...and I too already cringe at what will be on the TV (both in kids programs and just the daily news. sigh.) when our boys are older...

@Lex - I have to wonder if "bow & arrow" play would affect me in the same strange visceral fashion that "gun play" does. I'm fully willing to admit that there might be some of my own person issues/views re:guns at play here. Hopefully I can get to the space where it doesn't faze me. Perhaps when the newness of it wears off and he's on to something else I get unnerved over ;) (i love the last line of what you wrote btw!)