And it Started off SO Well
BY DEBRA-LYNN B. HOOK
Several of us couples were gathered for dinner at the home of a friend, when one of our young desperados emerged from playing.
The little bandito must have been packing heat because we heard the hostess sing out from the kitchen:
“All weapons in the playroom!”
I caught the eye of my conscientious mother friend sitting across the table from me.
It’s not like my friend and I are purists.
Her son has in his toy chest two vintage Army tanks that once belonged to her husband. My son has a plastic box filled with miniature Revolutionary War soldiers. Her son has a toy gun his grandparents gave him for Christmas one year. Both our kids own plastic swords.
But a pack of boys of varying ages and sizes playing outside their parents’ view with a random bunch of violent toys? Hmmmm.
How times have changed. I used to play “War” with my friends literally for hours “outside my parent’s view.”
When I became the mother of a son 15 years ago, I didn’t consider toy weapons for playtime, mostly because my own girlhood toy du jour was Chatty Cathy.
As the years went by and my normal American boy began to notice he was the only male child on the block without an Ouzi (sic) for a squirt gun, I felt compelled to research the appropriateness of weapon play.
I learned that while some childhood experts believe kids who play with toy weapons become Columbine shooters, that there is no conclusive evidence to support such a theory.
Who’dathunkit? “no conclusive evidence to support such a theory”? How about any evidence to support such a theory?
I learned that Mister Rogers thought war play an appropriate, dare I say necessary, way for kids to act out a violent world. Even peacenik Joan Baez reportedly let her kids play with toy guns, contending if she didn’t, they would want them even more.
I learned from my own experience that boys will be boys, that a pork chop bone readily becomes a Colt 45 in the hands of a 4-year-old, even a 4-year-old who’s never seen anything on TV more violent than Barney.
Amazing, that, isn’t it? And another nail in the coffin of the idea that “boys and girls are the same, it’s just the way we raise them that makes them different.”
As time went on, as I watched my first son and his friends grow up – some of them with toy guns, others not – I concluded that weapon play does not necessarily breed violent tendencies, that whether a child should play with cap guns depends partly on the child, that it is not necessarily a bad thing for a child to play with toy weapons, that it may even be good.
I still didn’t like it. When all was said and done, expert wisdom or not, I simply didn’t like the way kids acted when they played with certain violent toys. Never mind violent tendencies later. The way I saw it, weapon play produced violent behavior now.
And this is a bad thing….why? Shouldn’t children learn the effects of violent behavior when they’re young, rather than find out after years of being coddled and protected? Violence often hurts, but if you don’t learn that as child, doesn’t that leave you unprepared to learn it as an adult?
And yet, knowing the power of culture and a little boys’ urges, I ultimately decided to take it one supervised weapon play at a time. Two well-behaved boys playing toy soldiers on the floor became acceptable. Ouzis (sic) in the hands of 6-year-olds, or 15-year-olds, for that matter, did not.
Even if they’re just squirt-guns? Why?
An occasional sword fight in the living room, as long as there was no actual contact, was tolerable. Neighborhood gun battles were not. All weapon play, regardless, was heavily monitored and controlled, so it didn’t escalate into something it shouldn’t.
Oh for Jebus’s sake. They’re CHILDREN, not porcelain dolls!
I didn’t say anything the other night to the hostess – a mother whose parenting I trust, by the way – even though eight boys, and, I might add, two girls, apparently were chasing each other around with what I later learned were pretend guns, swords and firefighters’ axes.
As a matter of fact, after my initial eyebrow-raising, I didn’t think much at all about the kids’ choice of play, partly because I trusted this particular group of kids and their parents, partly because I didn’t think it was my place. It wasn’t even my house. Who was I to order the kids to put down their toys and find something else to do?
And yet, as it turns out, as we parents all later realized, that’s exactly what one of us should have done. Because things did escalate, because one of the kids ended up getting hurt, because halfway through dinner, my conscientious friend’s 6-year-old son emerged scared, crying and asking his parents to take him home. She later said he had bumps on his head and a cut on his face.
Direct contact with a weapon was not the cause. The kids assured us of that. But I doubt very seriously this would have happened, had they been redirected to a rousing game of, say, Tiddlywinks.
“Bumps on his head and a cut on his face.” I shudder to think what generations of kids who are raised killing and maiming characters on a video game display, but who have never been injured when playing “War” would be like when they hit adolescence. Boys play rough, and “bumps and scratches” are a normal part of that. Wrapping them in cotton and only allowing them to play Tiddlywinks is idiocy. Pain is a corrective feedback mechanism. Eliminating all pain and injury from childhood is a sure way to leave kids unprepared for life.
It would appear that Ms. Hook is the same kind of parent who would oppose competition because it might affect her child’s “self-esteem.”