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The Second Amendment in Your Playroom: Do Your Kids Have the Right to Bear [Toy] Arms?

Last week, Wakefield Patch reader Jillian Sallee asked to see a discussion about giving kids weapons, she asked “Will it make them more violent or not? I have read both sides of the issue and I can’t decide.”

Regina Martine:
I have never liked the idea of toy weapons. I don’t think that playing with pretend weapons will create an obsession with real weapons, or turn a kid into a serial killer or anything like that, just like Barbie is not going to make your kids bulimic or addicted to plastic surgery. But I don’t like them. Especially toy guns. I think they play into a kind of “culture of guns” that is prevalent in this country and frankly, I want no part of it. 

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did buy my kids 2 toy light sabers and a toy sword, but they were all purchased as parts of Halloween costumes. To me, those kinds of “weapons” are for fantasy/role playing kind of play. In today’s culture, guns are about killing people, or at the very least, about scaring someone else into thinking that they could be killed. That just isn’t an attitude I want my kids to have.

Last year, when my son turned five, one of his classmates gave him a Star Wars blaster for his birthday.  This was before his obsession with Star Wars began, so to him, it was just a gun that he could use to shoot little darts at his sisters. I, however, was somewhat taken aback – I would never buy a toy gun for someone else’s child if I didn’t know how they felt about it.  I am not telling you not to let your kids play with toy guns, that is up to you. But think about the message it sends about using weapons as toys and pretending to kill one another.

I Googled “toy weapons for kids” and the first several listings were for “exact replicas” of assault rifles and military weapons.  These were intended to be children’s toys – not used in military or historical reenactments.  I understand that toys are not going to turn our kids into killers, but why do we need to glorify the use of weapons and make them seem appealing to kids? Many will argue that boys will pretend that sticks or other toys are weapons – and they often will – and that’s ok. Imagination and creativity are great qualities that any parent would want their child to have. We don’t need to give them a gun that looks just like the real thing.

So far, my kids seem to have no interest in playing with toy guns – even the Star Wars blaster has fallen by the wayside. Again, I wonder if this is a gender issue, as girls outnumber boys in my house, or that my kids have just picked up on my feeling that guns (real or pretend) have no place in our lives. 

Holly DeSouza:
I pay attention to all the news stories, studies, and otherwise educated perspectives on child rearing and what is considered healthy and “normal” for children.  Not because I believe everything I hear and certainly not because I plan to conform to what any “expert” says but simply because I am a mom.   I think it’s extremely important to be informed from all perspectives.  There’s a topic that is an exception to me: the view of violence and children in America.

I think it is insane to blame toys for violent behavior.  Completely insane.  And that’s me I am being kind.

I’ve seen the statistics for video games and violence in children.  I’ve seen “Bowling for Columbine.”  I’ve read numerous studies that claim if you give a child a toy gun or allow a 5-year-old to play cops and robbers you are setting them up to become a sociopath.

I think it is hooey.  That is my professional opinion.

I have many friends and family members who played cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, etc. and not a single one has turned into a mass murdering bank robber.  I have a much younger brother who grew up playing Nintendo and Sega and he is an educated, well rounded individual who is establishing a full-time career.  He also tried to play “killing his sisters” on a continual basis growing up, yet we’re all still alive and well with all extremities where they should be.

A toy sword or gun or bow and arrow will not make a child violent.  Trying to tell a 5-year-old they can’t play something that is a natural game for a kid (read: cops and robbers) could backfire and make them violent (think tantrum with lots of kicking and screaming). 

Tasha Schlake Festel:
Before I was a mother, I was quite sure that I would never allow my children to play with toy weapons, thankyouverymuch. I was also quite sure that my children would always be clean, wear perfectly coordinated and stylish outfits, never act out in public, always say please and thank you, go to bed on time, never sit in a daze in front of the television and listen to their mother.

Then I actually became a mother.

Guess what? We have toy weapons – a lot of them. We have swords, daggers, laser guns, old-fashioned pistols, Nerf guns, light sabers and a huge sledge hammer made out of foam. All stored in a cute basket, neatly organized next to the Magna Doodle, plastic dinosaur figurines and “Step In To Reading” books.

I’ll be honest. I was opposed to the introduction of weaponry into the playroom. My older child is a girl, and unless you’re from Arkansas, you probably wouldn’t think to buy your baby girl a toy gun. I was a bit horrified to go to the homes of my friends with sons and see their arsenals. I was glad my daughter never had any interest in those toys, and I was smug in the knowledge that I wasn’t the kind of mom that would allow such play.

Then I had a son. Since boys will turn ANYTHING into a weapon, I finally gave in and allowed weapons. And he freakin’ loves ‘em!

Weapons do not make kids violent. Behavioral issues, lack of discipline and direction, frustration, chemical imbalances and many other factors do that. My son will not grow up to be a psychopath because he played with weapons any more than my daughter will grow up to be a teenage mother because she played with baby dolls.

My son battles with light sabers and then clings to his stuffed animals. He shoots imaginary bad guys and then draws wonderful pictures of rainbows. He attacks pirates with his dagger and then asks me to cuddle on the couch to watch Sesame Street. He’s a normal little boy who likes to pretend. He’s not plotting the next massacre at the local high school. He’s just having fun. (And he’s often playing with his sister!)

I see no harm in allowing our children to play cops and robbers, act out battles from Star Wars or rob the fictitious bank in their sister’s room. I love to hear about the fantastical scenarios my little boy creates in his room, where he gets to be both the hero and the villain. It’s not that I’m encouraging him to be violent or act out violent fantasies. I am allowing him to explore his creativity in a safe place.

I think boys in our society are constantly being told to be less, well, boyish. They’re expected to sit still and listen for 6 hours a day in elementary school, often with only 15 minutes of recess and gym class only twice a week. They’re expected to want to sit and color, play quietly and be “nice” at all times. It’s not realistic. Most boys just can’t physically do that. But when they act like boys – loud, active, boisterous and masculine – then society looks down upon them and labels them as wild and violent.

Our boys need help and understanding. I recently read a few articles that pointed out that boys are falling way behind their female counterparts in reading and writing. While there was outrage about girls falling behind in math, or minorities falling behind in other subjects, where’s the concern for our boys? The author speculates that if boys were allowed to read and write about what they were interested in – physical contests, battles, etc. – then they may not suffer such a disadvantage. Makes perfect sense to me! As it currently stands, boys are rarely allowed to express any of these thoughts in their writing or artwork. Any hint of violence – even in a cartoonish way – is punishable, and could even lead to counseling, a “black mark” on the poor kid’s reputation or in the extreme, a trip to the police station! I wonder what might happen if boys were allowed to write about what they wanted, perhaps fantasies instead of autobiographies? We might find that our boys are darn creative, funny, intelligent and well-adjusted.

I think it’s important to let our children become the people they want to be. Of course, we as parents have a responsibility to guide that process, but we have to be open to their particular likes, dislikes and interests, even if they’re not in line with our own. Play with weapons should be monitored, but so should play with a doctor’s kit, and video games. The policy in our house is that toys get put out of reach for a while if play gets out of control, weapons or otherwise. It’s just common sense.

And by the way, my kids are often disheveled, rarely match, tantrum frequently, watch far too much television and shock me at the doctor’s office when I find out they actually can hear. Eh, 2 out of 8 ain’t bad!

Laurie Hunt:
The only ‘weapons’ in my home right now are Harry Potter wands.  This is simply because the one gun I do remember my girls having has long since been lost, it was part of a packaged police toy kit and the badge and handcuffs were what really interested my daughter.  My girls also got squirt guns once but preferred the long stick squirters I picked up at the dollar store as they held more water and had a better range.  I wonder if I had made a big deal over toy guns if they might have wanted them more. 

I feel excessively violent video games and movies are not healthy for children but at the same time I don’t feel the same about toy guns, swords and the like.  I think the video games and movies create an unrealistic and warped sense of what taking a life means.  You can’t turn real life on and off and a person does not come back to life.  I also think too much screen time with a lot of violence is not good and, most likely, is a result of other issues such as neglect which would, of course; lead to trouble for a child.

As far as weapons of the plastic kind, let’s face it, if you don’t buy the plastic weaponry kids will use their imagination and another toy, a stick, a wooden spoon – whatever is handy, will become the ‘weapon’ during their play.  I feel this is in part a bit primal, acting out our survival instincts and very healthy. 

Another example of this primal behavior is to think about animals at play.  Is there anything cuter than watching a kitten play with her Mama and siblings?  What do they do?  They role play fighting and hunting.  Allowing a child to play with swords, toy guns – even magic wands, is a way to allow them to use their imagination and role play, a way to satisfy primal urges. 

Now, having said what I said there is a time and a place for children to use these weapon toys.  I wish more parents would exercise common sense.  Market Basket is not the best place to allow your three sons, under age 5, to bring their light sabers.  Maybe your 8 year old could leave his at home the next time you go to the toddler park with your younger children too.   Just sayin’. 

Resources:

  • Media and Literacy: What’s Good - Rather than bemoan boys' fascination with movies and video games, teachers can use these visually mediated narratives to engage reluctant readers and writers.
Tasha Schlake Festel March 18, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Wow! Lots of comments on this one! I'd like to address "BHirsh" with my response. Your comment makes me wonder if you've read the whole article. If you do, I think you will see that there are several different opinions presented, many of which are in support of boys being boys. While I can't speak for my co-authors, I can say that I stated in my response that society expects our boys to be less boyish, which I think is unrealistic and unfair.
Regina Martine March 18, 2011 at 01:45 AM
Why does "boys being boys" mean "boys shooting guns"??? It that what masculinity is? I really don't understand the appeal of guns and I don't think keeping them away from my children makes them "wusses" or me a bad mother.
Tasha Schlake Festel March 18, 2011 at 01:53 AM
Gina, I completely agree with you. Masculity and guns have nothing to do with each other.
Marguerite Fahey March 18, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Amen, Gina! I couldn't agree with you more.
Jillian Sallee March 18, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Totally agree! Not all boys are interested in guns and that kind of play and that doesn't make them less of a boy or a 'wuss'!

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