In our discussion boards for students and graduates – our “Online Classroom” in which we can all debate and discuss, ponder and process the important (and not so important) issues – someone often brings up an issue in their own lives in which they’re struggling to do the most good and least harm. We wanted to share one such question, posted by a graduate who is a parent, along with the response given by IHE President, Zoe Weil.
Q: Before I had children, I was always very firm with the thought that I would never let my child play with toys that had anything to do with violence. Now that I am a parent, I see that it's not as easy as I thought. I am still resolute that I do not want my son playing with toys like that (He's only 2 now, but they grow up fast!). However, some people don’t think it's such a big deal to let him play with pirates wielding swords, action figures that might have weapons, etc. They’ve said that they played with toys like that and played "Army" and things of that sort when they were children and didn’t turn out to be violent.
I see boys in the neighborhood running around "play fighting" and things like that and I know that my son will be exposed to this type of play whether we allow such toys in our house or not. I'm looking for some insight and thoughts from other parents who have struggled with this issue with their own children, or from others who have seen children playing with such toys and how it affected them.
It seems hypocritical to try to raise a child to be a humane, peace-loving person while at the same time allowing play with violent-natured toys. Yet, on the other hand, I wonder if making such things taboo would only make children more interested in them. What is the fascination with these kinds of toys anyway?
~ Stephanie, IHE M.Ed. graduate
A: This is a tough one, Stephanie, and I can sympathize. I did not allow any toy guns in the house when my son Forest was little, but I did allow swords. But the truth is that even if I didn't allow swords, Forest would have made his own, as he did with fingers turning into guns. When he won a water gun at a fair many years later, I didn't take it away. When he turned 13, his friend called me up to ask if it was okay to give him a nerf gun for his birthday. I acquiesced. It wasn't the only nerf gun he got that day - another friend got one for him, too, and that's what they played at his birthday party. The summer he turned 14 I let him use his own money to buy 2 airsoft guns (they looked just like handguns and shoot plastic pellets). He can't play with them at our house or on our property, which just moves them out of my personal sphere so that I can tolerate their existence. He rarely uses them, and he never uses the nerf guns anymore.
Which leads me to believe that forbidding toy weapons makes them more coveted and appealing, and that, in truth, they don’t hold all that much interest after a certain point.
But the deeper question, why do they want them, is really important. We can't pretend that we, as a species, are just acculturated to be drawn toward violence - it's too much part of our history and our species to think that this is just something our societies perpetuate. We're both predators and prey after all, with a million years of evolution in our blood that make us both altruistic and compassionate, as well as protective and territorial. We know how to fight, and we know how to negotiate. We're complicated. Swords offer children a sense of power and nobility and the chance to play out their fears and be chivalrous, not just hostile.
Forbidding guns doesn't stop the impulse. I remember my husband being more concerned that if we had a daughter she'd want to play with Barbie dolls. Well, I loved my Barbies and I turned into a feminist just as my husband loved guns as a kid and turned into a gentle, compassionate man.
As a kid at camp, I LOVED riflery. Just loved it. Wanted to go to the camp I went to because they had riflery. I never wanted to shoot anyone, but I loved shooting targets. I don't know why really. A sense of accomplishment, gaining a skill, the idea of it, the discipline, the challenge.
These questions go to the core of who we are as humans. We can try to deny our impulses and our children's impulses, but where does that get us? The key in life is to choose kindness, compassion, honesty, generosity and integrity over cruelty, apathy, deception, greed and laziness; we have the capacity to manifest all of these and much more, but if your son is drawn to sword play, can you help him to use his sword to protect others? And if you choose not to allow any weapons of any sort, be prepared to reconsider as he gets older. In the spirit of openness, engage in dialogue about it; find out what's important to him.
Like our blog? Please share it with others, comment, and/or subscribe to our RSS feed.