It’s probably no secret that I am one of the biggest pacifists you’re ever going to meet. So just as I was aghast (as one of the biggest feminists you’re ever going to meet) when Oscar, at age two, declared the predominantly pink toy aisle in Target as the “girl aisle,” I have been struggling of late as to what to do about the recent and hearty gun play between Oscar and Edgar.
With all due respect to people whose line of work requires them, for their protection, to carry a gun and to those who live in places where they must hunt to acquire food, guns have no place in my world. I’ve seen what they can do in the wrong hands (and, sadly, even in the “right” hands), and my heart breaks. I eschew violence, and feel that, Second Amendment aside, if no one had a gun, no one would “need” a gun.
Of course, human nature being what it is, I know that as a species, we will never get there–at least not in my lifetime. Yet as a parent, I had always hoped that my boys would take my lead and not play with guns. After all, we never bought them for them–and for a while, we even got away with removing them from any action figure that came with them.
But no more. When it became clear that their beloved Tinker Toys could be made into guns–as could empty paper towel rolls, sticks, and their fingers and hands, we had to throw up ours. Couple that with the knowledge that the Storm Trooper has a gun in the movie, and ergo he has a gun in his action figure alter ego, we were suddenly–pardon the pun–disarmed.
I then had to do what I do in situations such as this . . . research and read. I happened upon the following from a physician and expert on child behavior:
“No question about it. Many little boys are fascinated by guns. Gun fascination often peaks around the same time that boys show the most interest in superheroes, dinosaurs, and in being “big boys.” What ties all of these things together, I think, is the theme of power. Little boys want to feel that they are powerful. In part, this is because they see that the world is full of big, powerful people, and they feel frightened sometimes. Of course, one of the most important people in a little boy’s life is his father. By pretending to be powerful, little boys seem to be more like their big, powerful fathers. Many boys also have competitive feelings towards their fathers, although in reality of course they are no match for an adult. Usually, as boys enter elementary school, their competitive feelings lessen a bit, and they find other ways of asserting their power, such as sports. When this happens, gunplay usually subsides.
“This is all to say that a fascination with guns is both very common in young children and also understandable. That doesn’t mean that you have to encourage your sons’ gunplay, or even tolerate it. You can say, simply, that you don’t allow guns in your house, not even play guns. You might suggest other ways that “good guys” capture bad guys, such as trapping them or tying them up.
“On the other hand, you could also decide that making a big deal over make-believe gun play is not where you want to focus your parenting energy. Sometimes, when parents strongly forbid an exciting activity, it makes that activity seem even more exciting. A more effective response might be low-key disapproval, such as saying, ‘You know I don’t like gun play. Why not play at something peaceful.'”
And there it is . . . and just as I suspected: This, too, is human nature–or at least “natural” for many boys–and not about to change any time soon.
As parents, we attempt–when appropriate–to “lift the curtain” and demystify as often as possible; and that is the tack we have taken with the gun play. When it starts up, we tell them we don’t like it and why, “low-key disapproval”; and, miracle of miracles, it usually subsides on its own within minutes.
Will our sons have the same strong feelings we have about guns? It’s impossible to script–let alone control–exactly how someone is going to wind up feeling about something. Many factors will contribute to their ultimate philosophy–and some of those will be beyond our influence. It is my hope, though, that by demystifying their current fascination and exploration through play while simultaneously providing them with the verbiage as to why guns are dangerous, that their ultimate feelings about guns will be respectful–on all levels. I might not be able to convince Oscar that the pink aisle at Target can be for boys, too (though I’ll keep trying); but it is my hope that Oscar, Edgar, and August will grow to see that a path of nonviolence–and one free of guns– is the best way to go.