The Parents Yap About Playdate Pre-screening: Got Guns?
When your child is going to a friend's home, how many questions do you ask in advance?
This topic was recently discussed on the Today Show, and it got us talking. Do you ask about guns? Drugs? Alcohol? And if you don't, should you? The Parents yap about playdate pre-screening, what they ask, when, and why.
Tasha Schlake Festel
Great. Something else society tells me I should be doing but am not. Add it to the ever-growing list. Honestly, it seems like every day I learn about another way in which I am an inadequate mother.
I don't ask if people have guns. I don't ask if they drink. I don't ask if they have criminal records. I don't ask if they have exotic or potentially dangerous pets. I don't ask if they have lead paint. I don't ask if they have bed bugs. I don't ask if they use non-prescription drugs. I don't ask if they have mold in the basement. I don't ask if they have knives or scissors. I don't ask if they have electrical outlets. I don't ask if they serve grapes, hot dogs or other choking hazards. I just don't.
What I do ask is what time I should pick up my child. I ask if I should send a snack. I ask if it would be OK to bring a Nintendo DS or iTouch. And if it goes well, I ask if the kids can play together again.
I don't ask all that other stuff, because at this point in my kids' lives, I control where they go, with whom, and when. If I think a parent or household might be sketchy, my kid doesn't go. Let's face it, we all have gut feelings about other people. I listen to mine and let it guide me in keeping my children safe. And by the time my kids are old enough to decide for themselves where they go and with whom they spend their time, I will have taught them the right things to do if and when they are confronted with a danger at a friend's house.
I have discussed with my children what they should do if they ever see a gun or other weapon. If you ask them, they will tell you that they are to leave it alone, no matter what, peer-pressure, joking around or otherwise. They know not to touch it. I have discussed that some people take "medicine" that doesn't come from doctors and that this can be very dangerous. They know to only take a pill that comes from the doctor or their mother and no one else. I have discussed that alcohol is only for grown ups, and that it can be very harmful to children. I have also told them that too much can even be harmful to adults too. They know that they can sample it if it comes from me or their father, but otherwise, they know to leave it alone. I'm teaching them to make good decisions about their own safety.
I think that as our children grow up, it is our job as parents to prepare them for the difficult and dangerous situations they may face, not make sure that dangerous and difficult situations never happen. Giving them the tools, information, and decision-making skills they need will serve them far better than putting them in a safety bubble.
So no, I don't ask, and I don't intend to. I talk to my kids and tell them what they need to know. And that will keep them safe for a lifetime, not just for a playdate.
If one of my kids is invited to a friend’s house, I never ask if the family has guns in the home. I don’t need to, because I should already know. I have no access to a Wakefield gun owner registry or a sixth sense about weapons ownership. Like Tasha said, I control where my kids go. If I don’t know their friend’s parents, my kids aren’t going to their house. I’ll gladly invite a new friend into our house and welcome questions from their parents.
I know for a fact that one of my sons has been in a friend’s gun-friendly home, and I wasn’t the least bit concerned. I’d talked with his friend’s dad many times in the playground at Woodville during pickup, so I know he’s an avid hunter. He grew up in Maine, and goes deer hunting there each year. He even showed me a picture on his smart phone of a monster buck he shot. Because he’s an avid hunter, I’m certain he has a gun or two in his house. Also, because he’s an avid hunter, I’m sure he properly stores his unloaded guns in a safe or locked closet with the ammunition locked up separately. Am I 100% certain? No, but he has two kids of his own. I’ve seen him interact with them. He cares a great deal about his kids and I don’t see him keeping a loaded .38 in a nightstand drawer “just in case”.
If someone asks me if I have guns in my home, the real answer is no—not yet. I started hunting three years ago and now have a Class A Large Capacity License to Carry Firearms issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I can own and transport semiautomatic hand guns, rifles and ammunition. I can even carry a loaded or unloaded concealed weapon. To get my LTC, I took a weekend-long basic hunter’s education class, passed a background check, and provided fingerprints. I’ve been borrowing my friend and hunting mentor’s .20 gauge shotgun for our annual deer hunting trip, but I’ll likely get my own at some point. When I do, it will be properly stored.
I didn’t grow up around guns, so I was mostly afraid of them. Now that I’ve been taught to use and handle them safely, I have more of a healthy respect for them. I want my kids to feel the same way about guns. I don’t want them terrified of guns, and I don’t want them to treat them nonchalantly because they’ve played video games. My sixth grader expressed an interest in learning to shoot a gun so that he could hunt with me some day. During a conversation with another sixth grade parent about my latest hunting trip, she told me about a junior rifle program at Reading Rifle and Revolver Club. Now, on Monday nights, instead of shooting baskets or hockey pucks, my son is shooting rounds from a .22 long rifle. He hit his first bull’s eye during his first relay. If he takes to the sport and wants to compete, I’d be willing to get him his own rifle.
I know what you’re thinking. Giving your 12-year-old access to guns?! What the hell kind of a parent are you?! Well, I’m one who wants to educate his kids about dangers they may come across when I’m not with them. They know never to take any kind of pill someone gives them. Using water, I’ve demonstrated the roughly different alcohol equivalents of adult beverages. I taught them about the strength of ice thickness and why they should stay off any frozen lake or pond unless I’m with them. I relate the temperatures put out by ovens and stoves to the temperature of bath water they feel is too hot so they’ll have an idea why it isn’t a good idea to touch them. Knowledge is power, and they’ll be safer when I’m not with them.
I don’t think the playdate age is the period of time any parent has to worry about anyway. You’ve got to be confident in the parents with whom you’re entrusting your kids. As you gradually give kids more freedom and supervise their activities less in middle school and high school, there are more opportunities for them to make bad or peer-pressure induced decisions. If they know how to handle potential dangers and you’ve taught your kids to be independent and confident, your worries will be fewer.
The last time we wrote about guns (and that time it was toy guns) a reader commented that I was personally responsible for the “wussification of America.” My dislike of guns is not a secret, but I really don’t think that the fate of the nation is dependent on my personal opinion. Oh, but if it were …
Anyway, there are 300 million guns in the country, so chances are, my kids have had playdates in houses with guns. I know they have been to homes where a parent is a police officer, or in the military, or a hunter, so there were definitely guns in those houses, but what about everywhere else? I don’t know, and I have never thought to ask. I assume that everyone who has a gun license has gone through the same background checks and training that Paul has — but as we all know — there are ways of getting a gun that can get around those rules. Hopefully that is changing, but in the meantime, maybe we should just as concerned with why people have guns as if they have them.
I would like to believe that responsible gun owners will keep their guns stored safely, and not under a bed or in a night stand drawer where a kid might find it. The only home gun safe I have ever seen is an enormous unit with a keypad lock that looks like it could survive a nuclear attack. I know the owner doesn’t announce the fact that there are guns in the house when friends come over. I do wonder, with emotions about guns and gun control being as volatile as they are right now, would any gun owner volunteer that information? What would someone who isn’t storing their guns safely tell you if you asked?
Personally, I don’t like guns. I don’t have guns in my house, and I never will. I have never been in a situation where I felt I needed a gun. I don’t go through life afraid that there are “bad guys” around every corner. I am not naive. I don’t believe that the world is perfectly safe. I also don’t believe the world (or at least the part of the world that I live in) is so dangerous that the only way to be safe is to be armed. I have been lucky. Not everyone has. This doesn’t mean no one should own a gun or use a gun for target practice or hunting. It doesn’t mean everyone who wants a gun should have access to one. There are a lot of opinions swirling around this issue, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but more conversation is better than less when it comes to our kids’ safety.
Do I ask parents if they have guns in the house before I send my child over for a play date? No. Honestly, it has never even crossed my mind, and now that it has, I still won’t be playing the role of Grand Inquisitor any time soon. This is not to say that I am not concerned for my kids’ safety. My kids are just still young enough that I’m involved in most of their activities and feel like I know their friends’ parents sufficiently to feel comfortable leaving them at a friend’s house. Of course, this is no guarantee that there couldn’t be a terrible accident at a friend’s house, but I’m ninety-nine percent sure that it would be bicycle-or-falling-related. My kids are active and don’t always have the common sense I wish they had.
We also hang out socially with the parents of many of our kids’ friends. They have a decent grasp of our general dynamics and we have a general grasp of their family dynamics. I feel comfortable with what I’ve observed about their views on respect, politeness and how they handle discipline when necessary. (Awww! I’m having a moment, thinking about how much I love our friends…)
If one of our kids asked for a play date with a kid whose parents I didn’t know, I’d have them over to our house, first, I think. You know, to size ‘em up.
I guess I don’t think the article referenced which talks about asking if a house has guns has a realistic point. If you don’t know your kids’ surroundings, then a lot is going to escape your notice, not just the presence or absence of guns. We spend more time making sure the parents in a house our kids visit know about our kids’ gluten-intolerance. It may be naïve, but I’m banking on the fact that a parent who attends to my kids’ food allergies is also going to keep their weaponry out of reach and check on the kids periodically.
My husband and I have spent a good deal of time raising our kids to respect other people’s stuff. I may just be too lazy to adequately baby-proof my house, but- my goodness!- have you ever read an article about how much baby proofing you are supposed to do?? We do the basics: plug covers, baby gates, cords, toxins and topple-able furniture secured. Beyond that, we start from a very early age teaching our babies that some things are for them and some just are not. That grows into teaching them, again and again, that if something does not belong to them, they need permission to touch/use it. Do they observe this rule perfectly? Of course not. That’s why reinforcement of the rule, open communication and ongoing supervision are important.
All this being said, I will say that, being from Maine, the idea of guns in general does not freak me out. My father is not a hunter, but members of my family are. I remember with a bit of nostalgia when friends from Rhode Island would come visit every hunting season to visit before heading off to hunt. I remember being called out to see the moose my uncle had in the back of his truck. Many hunter friends of my parents have given them venison from their own successful hunts which I have heartily enjoyed in chili and other fine dishes.
All my hunting family members show requisite respect for the power of their weapons. I also have several family members who are, or who have been, in the military. They, too, show proper respect for the power of their firearms. To my knowledge, I do not have any criminals in my family or in my acquaintance who own firearms. I do not know anyone who is careless enough in life in general to suspect they might be careless with firearms as well. I guess this is one more reason to count myself very fortunate.