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.

“Dangerism” — How A Society Decides What’s Dangerous

Hi Readers! Many of you are already familiar with Gever Tulley, the guy who runs the Tinkering School and did the famous TED speech on the “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do.” (Recently expanded into a book, “Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.”)

Now he’s come up with a very cool new term, “Dangerism,” which is the idea of looking at the things a particular society at a particular time considers dangerous. He gives some great examples of, for instance, a mom who lets her kids spend the day roaming the countryside behind her house with rifles, because, “There’s a lot less trouble to get into out there in the woods than there is at the mall.” Another example: Many American kids won’t own a knife until they get their first apartment. But Inuit kids start using knives at age three, because they’re expected to learn how to cut themselves some blubber.

So I started making a list in my own mind of things we have newly decided are dangerous — many of them documented on this blog: Recess when it’s cold out. Running on the playground. Walking to school. Waiting at the bus stop. Crawling. (Hence, baby knee-pads.) Boy Scouts whittling with knives. Girl Scouts toasting marshmallows without first putting one knee on the ground. (Yes, that’s the rule now: One knee on the ground or the dangers of keeling into the fire are far too great.)

I’d love to expand this list — or maybe make two: One list of the things that our culture is “dangerizing.” And maybe another of the things that are NOT considered overly dangerous in other, less scaredy- cat cultures. Got some ideas? Add ’em! Thanks! — Lenore