Parenting a young child who wants to play with toy guns has been an unexpected challenge for me. My preference is to completely ban all toy weaponry. My partner, who enjoys combat-based stories and games, thinks that is unrealistic. So we walk a tightrope of compromise.
When my son was around 3 years old, he asked what a tank was. He had seen a photo of one at a friend’s house and had played with mini army figures. At that time we had no toy weapons in the house, and he didn’t watch films or cartoons that included battles.
It saddens me to have to acknowledge that many people feel the need to carry weapons, whether for personal safety or for ideological reasons. So it sometimes feels as if my desire to help, even in the tiniest ways, to create a more peaceful world jars with my son’s interest in weaponry and play-fighting. Even the casual, continual violence in Tom and Jerry cartoons makes me cringe, and it bothers me that bubble guns are so enthusiastically marketed for outdoor play. Why does something as beautiful as a bubble need a gun?
My partner, on the other hand, grew up in the midst of a civil war and is wholly comfortable around weaponry. He loves action adventure stories that revolve around battles – Star Wars, superhero comics and a variety of video games. This makes managing our disparate levels of comfort with guns an intricate balancing act. It is a situation that is in a constant state of flux through cooperation and accommodation as we grow as parents.
Our son is now 6 years old and in Year 2 at school, and we have a range of play weapons in the house (although far fewer, I am assured, than many of his classmates). I am fairly certain that a complete ban on weaponry would be difficult to enforce, so my side of our family compromise involves the types allowed and how realistic they are.
I’m more comfortable with swords and shields (acquired after our son studied knights in Reception) than I am with toy guns. However, we do allow toy guns with foam bullets, a soft archery set and a Nerf target shooting kit. It’s tenuous, I know, but I feel slightly better if some of the play is at least ostensibly about building skill rather than simply attacking.
After giving and receiving a variety of Lego sets for birthday gifts while in Reception and Year 1, our son became increasingly aware of and interested in Star Wars. He and his dad began watching age-appropriate Star Wars cartoons, and his TV viewing expanded to include Ninjago and some superhero shows.
His dad’s side of the compromise includes backing my decisions about whether a show is too scary or unsuitable for our son’s age group and about not buying guns as gifts, especially a toy machine gun that rattles off multiple rounds of realistic shooting sounds. And we sporadically have a family discussion about different parents making different rules. This often occurs when a play-date is followed by a request for a new toy. We’ve also had the discussion in relation to the films and TV shows other children watch.
Our number one house rule regarding weapons is that none are to be pointed at someone else (including pets). On occasion this has meant that the bullets, arrows or toy itself have been confiscated for a period of time.
With almost any item capable of being turned into a weapon, and the ingenuity of children being what it is, our son’s preferred method of sidestepping my dislike of gunplay is to label the item in question a “lava blaster” or “laser”. He doesn’t realise how amusing I find this.
So far, what seems to work best for us as a family is to have short discussions about the reasoning behind our parenting decisions. We’ve told our son that real weapons hurt people, which is why I dislike them so intensely. We’ve acknowledged that the toy versions can’t hurt someone as badly as a real one, and we understand that he is “just playing”. I love that he creates stories and situations for his toys and himself and his friends to enact, and I’ve told him so. My concern is that words such as ‘death’, ‘die’, ‘killing’, ‘murder’ and ‘hate’ are used too frequently, and without real understanding, by some of his classmates. We don’t use language like that in our home.
We try to teach by example the power of words and are able to use our son’s love of reading as a means for expanding his vocabulary, something he is starting to incorporate into his games. And lately, when playing with friends, he seems to more easily accommodate our requirement that weapons are not to be pointed at people or animals.
As for action adventure films and cartoons, we try to watch most things with him and incorporate our family rules about weaponry into the discussions that arise. It’s an ongoing project and one that I’m sure will continue to change as he grows and his interests evolve.
Keely Khoury lives in London with her husband and two sons (one very new). She works as a freelance writer and editor and is passionate about reading, running, creativity, gender equality, healthful ageing and the beauty of the natural world.
Photo: Kindel media
Published in issue 53. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.