Bang Bang

Guns.

I’ve written about them before. About my own distaste for them and my fear over my little boy getting to “into” them. I’ve even written about how I willingly took to the land of laser tag and *gasp* enjoyed it.

But yet, here we are talking about guns again. Because I clearly still have some issues with them. Like when my son goes and hangs with his uncle – my older brother that lives with us up on the 3rd floor – and watches as he plays some sort of cowboy shoot ‘em up video game. The kid couldn’t have watched more than fifteen minutes total until I pulled him, kicking and screaming (okay, it was more like whining and moaning), down for bath time.

In the time it took me to fill up the tub, two things happened.

First:

Kiddo uses his doll stroller as a gun to attack his turtle dream light.

Kiddo using his doll stroller as a gun to attack his turtle dream light.

He had taken his purple and pink doll stroller (his doll stroller!!), folded it up, and turned it into a rifle. I stood in awe, speechless for a few moments. My gaping mouth drew his attention, and he looked over to me, his face splitting into a huge grin “awesome, huh?”

No, not awesome at all, really. I rubbed my temples.

“Please go put that away and get ready for the bath.”

With a sigh and a shrug of his shoulders, off he went into his room, where I foolishly assumed he was getting ready for his bath, due to the absence of the “bam! bam! bam!” noises that had been sounding out previously.

However, I walked into his room to find him hard at work:

oh...just some doodles.

oh…just some doodles.

Despite being proud of his lovely artistic skills, I was a bit flabbergasted again. This is a kid that until a 1/2 hour before, had never sat down and watched a violent video game, and less than 30 minutes later he’s practicing his shot with a stroller and dry erasing gun fights.

And there are still some people who don’t think violent video games impact children.

Now, does that mean that I think he’s going to become some sociopath who offs real turtles in his spare time or turns to a life of crime? Not at all. But it definitely gave me pause and reminded me how impressionable these spongey children of ours are.

Later on in the evening, during his bath, we had a long chat. I asked him why he liked guns so much and what was interesting about them. He didn’t have a clear answer beyond “…they’re just awesome.” I explained to him that I thought superheroes who protected people from guns (without using any themselves) were pretty awesome, which he thought over for a bit and seemed to agree with.

I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind about his love of guns, and I didn’t really try to. I just wanted to explain to him why I’m so uneasy about guns. And while I’m still in a muddled headspace when it comes to boys and guns, at least I know we can talk about it and he’s receptive when I explain my trepidations. And, in the meantime, while we don’t have any actual toy guns in the house, the stroller, a drumstick, or even a stalk of celery seem to suffice in the meantime.

Am I alone in this uncertainty, this trepidation? Talk to me folks – ease my mind, commiserate, or tell me to lighten up. Just assure me I’m not the only one trying to figure this firearms thing out…

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24 thoughts on “Bang Bang

  1. Oh boy, talk about a loaded issue in my house (pun intended), seeing as I’m a pacifist and my husband is, well, pretty much the opposite. Our kid’s only two so not really an issue yet, though I have to ask my husband to change the channel if a show comes on with guns in it and our son is in the room. I feel just as conflicted and disturbed about it as you, so I’m afraid I have only camaraderie, no illuminating advice, to offer.

    • Camaraderie is plenty – really. Just to know that I’m not alone in my confusion on how to deal with all of this. I showed my husband the drawing (he had been working late yesterday) and his first reaction was “wow, that’s a great drawing!” with the oh yeah, it’s got guns” being secondary, and even then he wasn’t as disturbed as I was, so I wondered if I was taking this all to heart just a bit much…

      On Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 10:22 AM, The Mamafesto

  2. You are not alone. We’re struggling with the same thing here. Our boys don’t have any toy guns but they do have (and love) toy swords. My partner came to our relationship with a love for pirates. When we had kids, people bought us all kinds of pirate-themed clothing and books. I was conflicted. On the one hand, I didn’t want my boys exposed to all the weaponry and violence pirates are known for but I also recognize that kids love the idea of pirates because they see them as adventurous outlaws, not ruthless killers. Still, I resisted allowing toy swords in the house. Then our older son realized any stick or “pointy thing” would do and we were off.

    As I read your piece today, I thought back to my own childhood in rural Maryland. My brother was 7 years older than me and had an arsenal of BB guns. He only ever used them for target practice and no one in my family hunted or used more serious weaponry. However, my dad who was former military, owned a computer game company that specialized in war-style video games. So, from around the age of 5 on, I not only had regular access to a BB gun for target practice (supervised by my siblings–my siblings who were 10 and 12!!) but I was also playing shoot-em-up video games, including a pirate-themed one, on a daily basis, as were my sister and brother.

    All of that said, here I am, decades later, wringing my hands over whether my son should have a toy gun someday, let alone one that could shoot real (though tiny) bullets! For the record, my sister and I are totally non-violent people. She doesn’t allow her four boys to have toys guns either, nor do they have real ones. My brother sometimes goes to shooting ranges with friends but he’s not some uber-macho, gun-toting, violence worshipper.

    I think the thing that really appeals to kids about weapons is not their ability to harm people for the sake of harming people. I think it’s more about feeling so small in a scary world and feeling drawn to something that they can use to protect themselves and their families. Guns and swords give them a feeling of power and control. My older son at least often talks about how he’ll cut anyone who wants to hurt him or us or animals, etc.

    Plus, swords are shiny and guns are loud. My kids love shiny and loud. :)

    • Thanks for the reassurance, Aly – seriously! And while I logically know that kids who grow up in homes where there is lots of exposure to this sort of stuff turn out to be peaceful, wonderful people, I also have been hammered in the head with all the studies and data on exposure to violent media & how it impacts kids’ development.

      Interestingly enough, I’m a little more lenient with more fantastical forms of violence, i.e. pirates, lasers, etc… maybe b/c it’s less realistic? Again – you can see my confusion on this topic is totally nonsensical, yet runs deep. eep.

      On Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 10:33 AM, The Mamafesto

      • I kept thinking about this issue last night, especially as my son was pumped to watch the movie Brave which his Granna bought for him. Pre-kids, I thought I’d screen movies before I let my kids watch them, but that went out the window when I realized how little time I have now. Anyway, it was Brave which is about an strong-willed princess who flips the whole marry-a-prince script and fights bears while she’s doing it. Sounds awesome, right?

        Well, there were no guns in the movie, but plenty of mindless brawling by male characters who’d come to win her hand. I wondered what my son was thinking during those scenes. These characters are made out to be doofuses, and one could infer that their mindless brawling is just an expression of that, and thus kids won’t want to identify with them. But then, I had to wonder: is my son identifying with the strong female character or is his “boyness” already such an integral part of his identity that he sees the foolish male characters and assumes he’s like one of those or should be? Is he getting the message that he can be the driver of his own destiny like the princess, or that men are idiots and he’ll one day be one too?

        As much as I think gender identity is socially constructed and I’ve worked to raise my kids that way, I also think it’s natural for kids to look around for social cues and assume that physical similarities extend beyond that. When a girl sees gun violence in the media perpetrated by male characters, is she less likely to identify with that because she doesn’t see herself in that image? Is a boy then more likely to identify with it and incorporate it into his play because he’s assumed that’s what boys/men do?

        I don’t know. IT’S COMPLICATED. Like some of the other commenters said, open communication about violence and weapons and anger and gender (and pretty much everything else) may be the only real answer.

  3. I just told my kids that guns are dangerous and people use guns to hurt people and I don’t like to see them acting out that kind of play. I’m not buying them toy guns or violent video games, but if they’re determined to go “pow pow” with their fingers or their baby stroller (LOL), I’m not going to forbid it. What I am going to do is tell them how I feel about it. I will keep reminding them that I think our society is too quick to jump to violence as a solution, that gun violence is a problem we need to take seriously, there are better solutions, etc. That seems reasonable to me – then they will begin to understand what the issues are as they grow and hopefully they will not fixate on the forbidden toy. They are little, too little to understand how serious gun violence is or how permanent death is, and I’m not concerned that their occasional pretend play means they are going to grow up to hurt people. But I think it’s appropriate that they begin to learn why I think there are better games to play and other ways to be powerful (which is what they really are attracted to, right?)

    • I definitely agree with you and Aly that there is probably some sort of power play involved and it makes them feel secure or stronger to pretend gun play for sure. And yeah, I’m not going to forbid him from making guns out of paper or sticks or, apparently, baby strollers, but I’m certainly going to keep the conversation going. Who knows, maybe he’ll get so sick of me processing gun play all the time that he’ll stop doing it just to shut me up ;) I kid… (maybe.)

      On Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 10:59 AM, The Mamafesto

  4. I think you’re totally in your right to be concerned. No, it’s not going to make him into a serial killer, but if more moms did their best to reduce the guns in their children’s lives, and discuss it when they do play with guns, this world would probably be a much better place. As long as you can claim that guns have not become normalized in your house, I think you have a victory.

  5. Our kids have never been allowed any toy guns or even water guns! I’m sure people thought I was silly, but so what. They had plenty of swords because to me fantasy play is different. Perhaps it’s arbitrary but they are my kids, right? I never stopped them from pretending they had guns. I just wanted to model for them that this was something that I did not approve of. Now my oldest son–age 18–pores over gun catalogues and plans to buy a REAL gun when he is able to do so. That is horrifying to me and of course I told him he will never be allowed to bring it to MY house. So what does all this mean? Well, I think as parents we have to do what we think is right, whatever that is, without stressing over the idea of the effect we want to produce. .

  6. I think you really hit on something when you mentioned “exposure to violent media & how it impacts kids’ development.” In my mind, there is a definite difference between violent media (which is most certainly harmful) and the appeal of guns as toys. What comes to my mind are water guns, nerf guns, and laser tag. These are fun games that are completely removed from violet outcomes or gruesome imagery. On the other hand are movies, TV shows, and video games that portray guns as means of wielding power and fear over others. These are undoubtedly negative in their impact. These are two ends of a spectrum that have a whooooole lot of grey area in between.

    Perhaps if we introduce the topic in terms of these two extremes, our kids will see this difference between fun games and dangerous weapons. As they grow older, we can address the grey area in between. My kid is only two, but I can say that right now I feel comfortable imagining her nerf-gunning me, but I feel uncomfortable imagining her “shooting me dead.”

    Thank you for the discussion on this topic, it made me think about how I might address it when it does come up. (Which it undoubtedly will, as Daddy is a big video game fan.)

    • Oh, I definitely have a visceral reaction when the kid points a gun at me, no matter what it’s made from (paper, pipe cleaners, a fork, etc…) and I’ve told him as much and he adheres by my boundaries. I’m definitely more comfortable with gun “play” like you mentioned vs prolonged exposure at an early age to violent media. It’s definitely an important distinction!

  7. Seems to me that you should have a talk with Uncle Third Floor. Your son will, utlimately be exposed to guns and other violence but when and how it happens should be on your terms.

    Or boys were NEVER allowed toy weapons of any kind. “Guns are not toys” was something they learned at a very young age. When they played video games, they didn’t “kill” Crash Bandicoot, they “hit” or “zapped” him.

    Most importantly, in my opinion, we tried to teach by example.

    • Yeah, my brother and I have had this talk before. As a childless guy in his late 20s, he doesn’t really get it, and just thinks it’s funny to share in these sorts of things w/his nephew (so, no big surprise as to who introduced the kiddo to the Simpsons – Or as he calls them, The Simpsimps. sigh.). To his credit, my brother is good about not continuing to do stuff when I ask him to stop, so while he didn’t ask permission to let the kiddo watch the video game (and to be honest, I think both boys knew I wouldn’t be pleased), he also won’t do it again now that he knows I’m not a fan…

  8. While trying to negotiate this issue, I have often turned to one of my favourite parenting books – Playful Parenting by Larry Rosen. He points out that there is a big difference between “toy” guns (which can only be used for one purpose), and “pretend” guns (like your son’s stroller set-up), which require imagination to “create” and then can be used for other things. He also says that one of the dangers of video games, etc., is not just that they are violent but that they teach a limited, violent, “script” of behaviour. And so when your kids are interested in violence or agression or weapons (which many are), it is better to play with them, keeping the plot as open and diverse as possible, so they can figure things out on their own as much as possible before they learn those scripts. I have found this way of thinking helps me deal with the stresses you describe (which I absolutely share), and to deal with my kids’ interest in play fighting, etc. If that book’s not already on your shelf, I would recommend it. Nice to know I’m not alone that is for sure!

  9. I am not a lover of toy guns, though I will admit buying my boys light sabers and maces and all sorts of other fantasy and knight-like paraphernalia. (And just writing that, a mace seems a far more vicious weapon–but I guess that’s the point). I am mom to 2 boys and have watched both of them reach an age where a stick becomes a weapon, machine gun noises are imitated and the conversations turn to death, killing and destruction. And this without any exposure to video games. It may only take a friend with an only sibling or perhaps violent fantasy play is part and parcel of the collective unconscious of boys. I don’t know, I’m not a boy. But that is one of the reasons I find raising boys so fascinating. Those two little people are so different from me–a fact which it took me a long time to accept. Of course it is my goal to teach them respect and kindness and non-violent negotiation skills, but will I ever fully understand them? Nope. And that makes me love them all the more.

  10. What a great post followed by a great discussion! It is interesting to see that we (especially moms of boys) are not alone… My son is now two and a half years and he started developping a love for pirats… First I was not so excited because if we think about it, pirats stand for things like violence, robbery, amputation (!!!) battles and many more. For such a young child, they surely stand for something completely different, I imagine “adventure, sailing and treasures”. Still, I am against getting him a saber or anything like that. So my husband got him other pirat stuff, which are harmless and that was fine with me.
    You know what is curious: last year a kid dressed up as a pirat for carnival and was not allowed by his teacher to carry his saber at daycare. His mother was surprised. I thought that was a good reaction from the teacher. She’s a pacifist! That’s great!

    Dear Avital!
    I am participating in a blog award given to me by Singapore Actually and named “Liebster Award”. Your blog is one of my favourites so I nominated you! I hope you like it. Sorry for posting this information here but I didn’t find another “Contact Me button”.
    The award consists of questions and answers and each nominee is asked to name another 11 bloggers and pass on the award. They should have less than 200 followers, which is surely not your case so I am breaking the rules but it’s no problem!
    Would love to see you around and to find out more about you through this award :-)

    • Thanks so much for your comment! and I have to say – I’m more okay with my son playing something like pirates (feels more “fantastical to me”) than straight up gun play. Feels less real to me, I guess?

      And if you need to contact me directly, you can click on the “About Avital Norman Nathman” tab at the top and it includes my email address!

      On Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 4:17 AM, The Mamafesto

  11. Pingback: One Gun Added On to the One Gun | mum2beautifulboys

  12. I used to absolutely refuse to buy my little boy toy guns. And he wanted them a whole lot. “They’re just TOYS, Mommy,” he’d tell me. “They’re not REAL!”

    Then I spoke to an older mom who has two grown boys. She told me that her kids used to play cowboys with toy holsters and plastic guns. They didn’t turn into killers, she pointed out.

    Since my son was always making guns out of his K’nex pieces, I gave in. I bought him a toy gun or two. He plays with them sometimes, but not often. He still makes guns out of K’nex pieces.

    I still refuse to buy him a gun that shoots ANYTHING. (Okay, except a water gun.) Because I don’t want to get shot, even with a freakin’ Nerf bullet.

    But I take your point entirely: A few minutes with a crazy-ass shooting video game DOES have an effect on a little kid. Your story illustrates that very clearly. I am thankful that my husband and I agree that we will never buy video games for our son, not least because we’d rather spend our money on other things, like traveling.

    I don’t know your brother, but if he were my brother, I would ask him NOT to play those games in front of my kid. The fact that he sees his uncle is playing them legitimizes them.

    We can’t keep these things away from our children entirely, but we can keep talking to them about why we don’t like them. And when we show empathy for others, our children learn that that’s a good way to be. We just have to keep working at it.

    Thanks for your interesting post.

  13. I am the mother of three girls and one boy. We do not have any vidoe games of any sort in our house. I am very particular about their television and movie watching. That said, my son is a whole different article than my girls. His first pictures were of boy things. His current pictures look like some kind of tactical plan for an army. I really think this is just a boy thing. When he finally got a nerf gun we went over the rules at length that he could not point it at people and the first time he shot someone the toy would disappear. Teaching respect and emphasizing that we do not even pretend to kill people has worked in our house pretty well for the last ten years….

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience on this, Karen. I definitely think there’s a huge win all around in teaching our children respect!

      On Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 5:41 PM, The Mamafesto

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