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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

31 January 2013

Toy Guns: would you allow your kids to play with them?

I recently read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin and then went on to watch the movie. Gripping. Disturbing. Chilling. Especially in light of the high school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The story is told by a mother whose son went on a high school killing spree; a mother who wonders if her son was inherently a sociopath, or if it was her antagonistic relationship with him that brought on such violence. The age-old, but still unsolved, Nature v/s Nurture debate.

Which led me to my quandary. Is it okay for our children to play with toy guns?

Nerf Guns on display in the toys section at Target

Ask any seven-year-old boy what was on top of his Christmas wish-list and the answer was sure to be a Nerf gun. In fact, the kids and I had access to one on Christmas Day. “Gum! Gum!! Gum!!” said Caleb, pointing the Nerf gun at Caitlyn. I guess I should have been relieved that he didn’t even know it was called a gun; not “gum”. Or that a gun actually makes a “Bang! Bang! Bang!” or “Rat-a-tat-tat” noise. But where did he learn to "point and shoot"? We’ve never spoken about guns at home. We don’t even watch the news when the kids are awake. “Mum, most of the boys in school pretend to shoot the girls,” explained Caitlyn...

Enough said to get those alarm bells in my head ringing wildly. I’m sure the day is going to come when Caleb asks for a toy gun. And I wonder what I’m going to do about it. I know what you're thinking: guns = violence, therefore, guns are bad. That was my initial knee-jerk reaction, too.
But I don’t want to have my kids wrapped up in cotton wool, shielded from the real world. I don't want them to grow up into adults who turn into blubbering messes every time reality is ten shades too dark.

And, I rationalise, didn’t my brother and my cousins race around in my Nana’s house, “shooting” each other with their “machine guns”? One day they were soldiers in the army; the next day, pretend Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Sylvester Stallones (this was the 1980s, remember?). The sound effects were always pretty spectacular. Have their gun-totting childhood games resulted in any psychological trauma today? No, they’re all quite well-adjusted, thankyouverymuch.

But just because it was done in the past, doesn’t make it right, does it? I mean, our parents’ generation smoked, ate and drank their way through the 1970s and it was all considered “hip”. Today, these things just spell lung cancer, diabetes and liver problems. We have so much more information these days. So how do we use this knowledge to guide our parenting decisions?

My stand is this: so long as your son engages in all sorts of role-play – think superhero/fire-fighter/astronaut – and is not fixated on only killing people, it should be okay. It can be a part of his imaginative play so long as he is aware that reality is a different story. After all, you wouldn’t stop your daughter from playing dress-ups as a ballerina/fairy princess/doctor now, would you? For now, I’m holding my breath that my son never asks Santa for a toy “gum”.

Is it okay for children to play with guns? What rules do you have when it comes to kids’ toys? How do you teach them to differentiate between reality and their imagination?


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  2. Zahara loves toy guns! Last night my 2 girls and Dad made lego towers and had competitions shooting them down with nerf bullets. Soooo much fun. My 4 year old has told me, "It's not real Mum.It's just pretend." I didn't need to tell her that, it's common sense. My fondest memories are playing armies with my brothers and the boys down the street, running around with plastic guns in a battle to the last man. I think we worry too much as we have too much information from the media who hype things up. Be careful and aware, but not paranoid. Let your kids experiment in the normal way.

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  6. Hey Alison, this is a point very much in my mind too... We hate guns here, and don't have any tv or books with that in the house. Yet here Luca is, 3 years old, running around with his arms in front going bang bang bang. I'm sure he's got no idea what he's doing or what we think of it, but I think to myself it MUST be something in their DNA... boys that is... Can't think where else the influence would have come from. I think you're so right. Exposure to all and education and guidance from the get-go...

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