As parents, we often try to ensure that our children are engaged in appropriate play. For some, this means wondering if it’s a good thing to introduce technology to our children, for others it can mean limiting the type of imaginative games they play or what they play with. Toy gun responsibility is something parents either overly-consider or don’t consider at all, but in our changing culture remains very important.
A 2013 essay from The Washington Post discusses the questions about toy gun responsibility in the home, but from a very wrong premise. “The only place darker for a parent to go than imagining your child killed by a gun,” the author writes, “is wondering what it would be like to raise the gunman. And some of us decide we’ll do everything in our power to prevent it.” She’s essentially suggesting that playing with toy guns relates to the larger (adult) societal problems with gun violence.
In fact, the current scientific debate suggests that, if anything, parents should pay more attention to the media their children consumes more so than if they play with toy guns. What parents need to be mindful of is not what toys they are playing with, but the context of those games. Young children especially are almost like mynah birds, because they tend to repeat the things they observe in their play.
For children engaging in imaginative play, a gun can be a vital accessory for their adopted persona but not reflective of overall violence. Especially if portraying a specific character like Indiana Jones or someone else that has a gun as part of their uniform. If they are “adventuring” or crafting a “heroic” narrative for themselves that ends with an enemy’s death (at the hands of a gun or otherwise) they are simply acting a kind of mythological story that has been part of collective humanity for thousands of years.
Conversely, if your child is playing with a gun by randomly “shooting” strangers or (even more troubling to adults) people they may not like, it might be time to execute not “toy gun responsibility” but “context responsibility.” Your child is not a future psychopath, simply because of this imaginative revenge. I, for one, have not pretend-shot enemies but by closing one eye and sitting some distance away, I’ve pinched their heads something fierce.
If the way your child plays with toy guns is troubling, rather than punish your child (i.e. take the toy away), perhaps it’s time to pay more attention to the media they consume and have some discussion about dealing with emotions and aggression. My own daughter used to routinely draw and write down little fictions about getting the best of her classroom rivals, much in the manner of her then-favorite book series Dear Dumb Diary.
There are real concerns with toy guns, mostly involving how “real” they look and interactions with police. Yet, playing with toy guns is normal and can be healthy.