You know, if most little boys pick up a Barbie doll, they will bend her legs perpendicular to her body and start shooting with her. My kid, almost four, has a very intricate fantasy world full of super heroes, policemen, Jedi Knights and Medaeval Knights, all rolled into one huge ball of mini-testosterone. I don’t know where it came from, though I’m not so happy about the fact that his father let the kid watch Star Wars movies when he was just three. He doesn’t watch regular TV (at least, not at my house) and none of the toys in his toy box are gunlike in any way. Except, when they are in the hands of a determined four year old.
Everything shoots. The good news is, nothing shoots bullets. My kid’s guns shoot lasers, music, flowers, and any number of creative ways to play the way he wants to without causing anyone pretend bodily harm. I’ve tried everything I know to redirect his play into something less… heroic? violent? weapon-oriented? But I guess, when you grow up in a home that has a real, Damascus sword hanging on the wall, you have a different take on weaponry. I’ve tried ignoring it, I’ve tried explaining to him that guns are bad and they kill people, I’ve tried hollering at him every time he shot something with anything… It’s no use. I think one of our dearest friends is about to stop playing with us because my kid’s a gun-nut, in her eyes.
But the biggest problem we are facing is school. School has a zero tolerance policy for gun play in school; in this day and age, in this city, I don’t blame them one bit. But what am I supposed to do about my son? Apparently, he’s on his third warning. The fact that I never heard about any of the first two warnings irks me to no end, but that’s another post. I’m really at my wit’s end! What can I do to stop this foolish play? I know it’s something he’s just gotta do, but does he gotta do it where he’s going to be punished severely for it? I’m afraid they’re going to ask him to stay home one day. Sigh. He’s not violent about it. He’s just got a big imagination, full of pirates and Spidermen and policemen and Secret Servicemen (thanks, Papa) and space aliens and knights and all the swashbuckling adventure that such a pantheon demands.
What am I going to do?
Jonathan Turley wrote an interesting article in the Outlook section of the Washington Post, and hosted a live chat about it later — transcript here. The article, entitled, My Boys Like Shootouts. What’s Wrong With That?, has some glimmer of hope and sanity for those of us who have decided to allow our sons to process the (sometimes violent) world in which we live through the tool they use best… play:
Still, when their best friend recently invited them to his Army-themed birthday party, it didn’t bother us a bit (though some parents did refuse to let their children attend). In fact, I was struck by how, more than combat fighting, the boys tended to act out scenes involving rescuing comrades or defending the wounded. What I saw was not boys experimenting with carnage and slaughter, but modeling notions of courage and sacrifice. They were trying to experience the emotions at the extremes of human conduct: facing and overcoming fear to remain faithful to their fellow soldiers.
Or, as child psychologist Penny Holland put it in her book, “We Don’t Play with Guns Here,” their make-believe games were “part of . . . making sense of the world [imitating] timeless themes of the struggle between good and evil.” This explanation is probably all the more important in a world filled with violent images of war on television and in the news.
I can only hope my school has a more tolerant opinion of role play and guns than others, or my four year old will be kicked out one day for pointing his finger at the giant caterpillar and shouting, “POW! SPACE ALIEN!”