Jumping the (Toy) Gun

August 1, 2012

My most treasured childhood toy was my Annie Oakley toy gun and holster. I just loved it!

I played with it for endless hours, seeing how fast I could draw it from the holster, shooting my pet cocker spaniel many times a day, shining it adoringly and ultimately sleeping with it.It represents one of my fondest and strongest child hood memories.

As an adult I have never been in a physical fight, I abhor violence and am considered very pacifistic. When you view this in light of my early obsession with guns (I even got an authentic Annie Oakley outfit), it probably defines my stand on the passionate and endless debate, "Do toy guns promote violence in children?"

Toy guns are unavoidable! If you have a "no guns" policy in your home, children, especially boys, will play with them when they are with other children out of your home, they will make them (think lego), and they will imagine them, using their fingers and thumbs as guns. I read lately of a mother who was horrified when she saw that her young son, living in a home where guns were prohibited, was biting his grilled cheese sandwich into the shape of a gun. She realized from this experience that this was one fight she needed to approach differently, and it left her wondering,"Are parents too uptight when it comes to gun play?"

A mom of teen boys and a younger daughter, admits she spent those first years shielding her boys from violence and gun play. But she sees this topic as one that gets more clear as the kids get older, eventually realizing, "the key is teaching them the difference between "pretend" and "real" and what the consequences are." She adds, "Don't sugar coat it. They need to know what a real weapon can do to someone."

And while a well reputed therapist remarks that real-looking toy guns are more of a problem than others, she says that parents can often focus on the wrong side of the issue, choosing to just refuse the toys instead of discussing and educating kids about the risks. "Owning a gun does not create violence, just like owning a cooking set doesn't mean you have a cook on your hands. We buy baseball equipment but that doesn't create a major league player. It's when kids confuse the fake one with the real gun that the problem arises."

The wife of a police officer agrees that this is the greatest issue of all. Further she believes that Kids can't confuse fake guns with the real deal if they don't have access to a real gun. Her policy in a house full of (locked-up) guns is to avoid toy guns until her son understands and can tell the difference between real and pretend.

Something to think about:

Buying toy guns for boys seems completely natural to millions of American parents. Yet, the same parents would not even think about buying guns for their little girls. When we encourage boys to play with guns, we must question whether or not we're socializing them to be violent.

Through my own life experience, being a mom of two boys and a girl and after hours of debating both sides of the topic, I can't think one child who turned to a life of violence after playing with a lime green water gun.

Now video games...that's another matter!