For those of you with boys, you know how the gun is a daily part of imaginary play. I am constantly amazed how my son turns everything–from his fingers to hangers to Popsicle sticks–into a gun. And, how did he learn to make such accurate gun noises? Besides water pistols, my husband and I don’t allow him to have a gun. But, he’s constantly asking if he can have one–Clone Trooper and NERF guns being the hot ticket items in his 4 year old mind. So what gives, should we do it? Since I know we aren’t the only family struggling with this dilemma, Breezy Mama turned to child expert Susan Tordella for some answers. –Alex
Why do boys insist on turning everything into a gun? Is there a point to fight it?
Guns represent power in our culture. Boys who play with guns are doing what children do naturally — reflect through play what they observe in our culture. They’re normal and healthy to imitate adults who use guns for power, authority, status, fun and entertainment. To expect them to eschew guns is nonsensical.
I read that playing with toy guns empowers boys psychologically — do you agree with this?
Of course. See first answer. It would be like denying little girls access to Barbie and beauty toys. They are simply reflecting how our culture idolizes beautiful women. Guns and beauty equal power.
Am I actually harming him if I DON’T let him play with toy guns?
You’re not harming him- just sending conflicting messages, which adults do all the time. My favorite is a mother observes David hit his sister. Mom smacks David and says, “Don’t hit your sister.”
Should I avoid purchasing an actual plastic gun, but be okay with him making the guns out of popsicle sticks, etc?
You can avoid purchasing a gun, you can prohibit them. The bigger the deal you make, the more powerful they become. So have at it.
We don’t give our child a gun, but he does have light sabers, swords and water guns. Is it pointless to let him have one “weapon” and not another?
A gun is a gun. They’re meant to hurt other people and animals. Many people hunt for sport, not meat. Water guns are fun. Playing war is fun. Pretending to kill other children is fun. It’s PLAY!
What should parents do when their child is getting to the age where they ask for one?
Don’t make a big deal of it. Suggest he saves up his money to buy it if the parent is really against it. The less fuss, the better.
At what age do you think it’s appropriate to give your child a toy gun?
Let him ask.
How would you recommend explaining to a preschooler why he needs to be cautious of guns, or why Mom and Dad won’t let him have one?
Can a play gun hurt someone? Gun-owning parents are VERY CAREFUL to insure their children treat play guns with safety in mind.
Our son takes toys that shoot (i.e. a Batmobile that shoots out plastic darts) and points it to our daughter’s face. I told him that if he didn’t know how to use a toys that shoot properly (i.e. not point it at someone’s face) he wasn’t old enough to receive a toy gun. Was my thinking correct?
YES – and insufficient. FORGET TALK – you need action. REMOVE THE GUN from his possession immediately. It sounds like this situation has occurred more than once. ONCE is too often for that kind of threat to your daughter’s vision.
After I told my son he wasn’t old enough to handle a gun that shot out foam bullets, he asked if he could have one that made noise. My feeling is a gun is a gun—no matter what it does. How do you feel about this?
YES. A gun is a gun.
If I allow my son to play with toy guns, will he get it out of his system vs. having him grow up and want a real gun because he never got to play with them when he was little?
Make guns more difficult to obtain, show conflict and distress and it will make them more appealing. Treat guns like a dead tennis ball, like having toy cars. You’d never think of denying your son a toy car, and cars are responsible for a great deal of pollution, congestion and highway deaths annually. More people die in auto accidents than from firearms.
Anything you’d like to add?
Believe it or not, I’m in favor of much more stringent gun laws. I’ve never owned a gun or gone hunting. I’m just a sensible parent — and a parenting expert, workshop leader & coach, and author of “Raising Able: how chores brat-proof families.” I’ve raised 2 daughters & 2 sons – now 20-somethings. None of them own guns today – that I know of.
I LOVE playing with water guns and encouraging children to play games of all sorts. My sons and daughters had super-soakers I bought, other water guns and guns that I found at yard sales. My children treated guns with little reverence or interest. They used them as props when needed. They did not idolize guns, or thirst for them because I did not make guns forbidden objects of desire.
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About Susan Tordella: Susan divides her time as a writer, parenting coach and workshop leader, speaker, and volunteer. She is the author of “Raising Able: how chores brat-proof families.” Susan has co-founded several Toastmasters clubs for prison inmates to build confidence, public speaking and leadership skills. “The refrain I hear from inmates is, ‘I made some bad decisions.’ That’s the goal of raising capable children: to nurture them to make good decisions when they’re 60 miles away, going 60 miles an hour,” she said. Susan worked as a journalist for five years and ran a private non-profit that promoted carpooling, biking, walking and taking public transit to work. Her toughest job and most rewarding job had the the most responsibility and longest-term impact was as the full-time domestic guru for 17 years for her four children, two boys and two girls.