Do Toy Guns Turn Kids into Killers?

Hi Readers — Here’s another question that arrived in th email. It began,  “Can we talk about gunplay for a few minutes?” Happily, by “gunplay” they writer didn’t mean, “What’s the upside of random shootings?” But rather, “Is it okay for kids to play around, pretending to shoot each other?”

While it drives me crazy when one of my sons puts his hand up to his brother’s temple and pantomimes “Pow!”, I totally love it when they get out their Nerf guns and run around playing shoot ’em up. I used to think toy guns were a tool of depravity. Now I think they’re toys…that happen to be guns.  So onward to the reader’s letter:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had no idea how far the hysteria over gun play had gone these days until my son got in trouble for it last week at school.

The thing is, he wasn’t playing with a gun. He and his friends were playing with sticks. And since they were well aware of the rule against “gun play” (the rule that I had previously been ignorant of), they weren’t even pretending that the sticks were guns; they were pretending that they were crossbows.

By nobody’s report were they bothering anybody. The game involved the 5 or so boys who were happily playing with each other and that was the scope of it.

For this, my son and his band of friends were prohibited from sitting with each other at lunch for a day, and were banned from the school playground “until further notice.” At recess, they had to stay under close supervision on the blacktop.

Now, my husband happens to work at the school and he spoke with some of the staff members involved, which resulted in them reinstating the boys’ playground privileges 2 days later. But my husband also found out that the rule against gunplay is mandated by the state, so there’s no use in complaining to the principal; this is a legislative matter.

I suppose I should be thankful that that’s as far as it went. At no point was suspension or any other wild overreaction even mentioned. A friend I spoke with after this happened mentioned that when her son had been in first grade, he was threatened with suspension for making a threat against a friend to “shoot her with his BB gun.” Never mind that he didn’t even have a BB gun, it was actually a Nerf gun. Never mind that he didn’t have it with him at the time, and never mind that these two kids were good friends who loved to tease each other. Regardless, if he did it again, he’d be suspended.

My son is a gentle-natured boy who’s normally more interested in climbing trees than playing shoot-’em-up, so we don’t have much gunplay at home. But even if we did — seriously, these are kids, and it’s imaginary play. I know the difference, and so do kids. It’s only the grownups who seem to struggle with the distinction.

Based on the little bit of Googling I did, it seems there’s no proven correlation between gunplay and real aggression. Some have even suggested that prohibiting gunplay could have the opposite effect and make guns a tempting forbidden fruit.

I understand that events like Columbine have scared the crap out of people, but I have a hard time seeing how playing with a few sticks on the playground is going to turn kids into murderers. -Cindy H.

Stop? PHOTO CREDIT: woodleywonderworks, on Flickr. http://bit.ly/97MUu3

Merry Christmas — And A Present!

Hi Readers! This photo montage has been making the rounds. Thought I’d share it, too. I’ve seen it headlined, “Why Boys Need Moms,” and, “Why Boys Need Parents.” (As opposed to the post two below this one: Why Boys Need Lawyers.) Enjoy, but don’t bother to tell us that not all these pix are in good taste. We know.

Meantime, if you celebrate Xmas, hope it’s a merry one! Save those boxes for your kids to play with. — Lenore

Boys In School: Antsy, Desperate — And Deprived of Recess

This wonderful Huffington Post essay by Holly Robinson describes her 6th grade son’s misery in school. It sounds so much like my  fifth grade son’s misery, it made me realize that maybe his “school = lethal injection minus the yummy last meal”  attitude  just may be generic.  Having been a girl all my life, I didn’t realize boys could be so out of synch with the whole classroom  thing. I thought everyone  aspired to to  Teacher’s Pet-for-Life.

Guess not.

Anyway, the part that really gets me — in my son’s life and in Ms. Robinson’s  essay — is that when kids are so bored and miserable as to be disruptive, the punishment of choice seems to be: No recess.

Which makes about as much sense as trying to rehab a thief by taking away his day job. Now what’s he going to do?

Probably not start re-organizing his five-subject binder.  So here’s to good old-fashioned recess: more of it, not less.  

(And if we could work on more essays about history or art or  science instead of endless  “personal narratives,”  that would be lovely, too.  I swear, the New York City public schools are teaching kids to blog! But that’s for another rant.)

Yours on the cusp of summer —  Lenore

Are Most of Us “Bad Parents?”

It’s official: Imperfect parents are the next proud, new minority to come out of the closet. Or, rather, out of the toy chest – the one NOT filled with Swedish, hardwood, hand-lathed toys. The one filled with games missing cards, Barbies missing hair and educational toys missing batteries because (sorry, kid)  they were just so LOUD! What does the duck say?

Nothing! Not one single quack. Mute piggy, too! Mute chick! Moo-less cow!

And what does the parent say?

“Yay!”

In an article meriting front page status in the Wall Street Journal (http://tinyurl.com/c5rkzj), reporter Ellen Gamerman writes about a bumper crop of new books and websites by parents confessing their kiddie crimes, from using paper towels instead of diapers, to letting the dog clean up the baby vomit in the way only dogs can. (Good dog!)

The stories are great and the interest is greater. The online magazine Babble gets 1.8 million visitors a month — a number that tripled, according to the article, when the site began its “Bad Parent” column ( www.babble.com ). Truu Mom Confessions (www.truumomconfessions.com) is popular for the same reason: true moms, confessin’. And now really big name writers like Ayelet Waldman (www.ayeletwaldman.com) and Michael Lewis are writing books about their imperfect mothering and fathering, respectively, in part because they are sick of a culture that expects parents to spend all their waking moments enriching their children’s lives and being enriched by same.

It’s easy to see why the time is ripe for all this truth. We are swimming in a culture that exults – and often scrapbooks – every parenting moment. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying parenthood. I sure do. Often. (Not today, maybe, but that’s because it’s spring vacation and both my boys are home and I’m trying to WRITE THIS SO SHUT MY DOOR, PLEASE, GUYS! OR GO OUTSIDE! IT’S BEAUTIFUL OUT THERE! WHY AREN’T YOU PLAYING?)

…what was I saying? Oh yes, much of parenting is marvelous. But there’s nothing wrong with saying some of it is tedious and overblown. And one of the reasons it has become so tedious is that we are expected to be involved with every baby step our kids take – literally and figuratively. (GUYS, IT IS SO SUNNY OUT! GO!)

So now “bad” parents are the ones who don’t get down there on the floor and play patty cake all day, every day, no matter how pooped they are. “Bad” parents are the ones who don’t help boil the solution for the science fair. “Bad” parents drop junior off at soccer practice but don’t necessarily stay to cheer every kick, and bond with the coach afterward. “Bad” parents may even bring non-organic grapes (or Drake’s Cakes!) when it’s their snack day.

In other words bad parents are the ones who parent the way OUR parents did – loving and encouraging us, but not hovering over every outing and stressing over every issue.

These days it’s called “bad” parenting but really, this all seems to be a rallying crying for, ahem, Free-Range parenting – parenting that is a little less obsessive and a little more ready to let kids fend for themselves. The kind of parenting that not only builds more self-reliant kids but also less exhausted, frustrated (BOYS, CLOSE MY DOOR!) self-neglecting parents, too.

Call us bad parents, busy parents, realistic parents, Free-Range parents – what we all share is the realization we’re not perfect and our kids don’t have to be either. That means we can sit back and breathe deep. And — who’da guessed? When you feel less overwhelmed you can even enjoy it a little more.

A little.

(GUYS! HOMEWORK OR BIKE RIDE? I THOUGHT SO. BYE-BYE!)

Ahh. — Lenore