When I became a mother, I vowed not to let toy guns into our home. My husband agreed. We saw no need. We believed – still believe – that because guns are used to injure and kill they are not something to “pretend” with. We committed ourselves to ensuring the tv shows the boys watched were educational and prosocial and, sure, sometimes good ol’ entertainment, but anything violent would wait until they were much older.
When my oldest was born 7 years ago, it was easy to control what he watched on television (educational) and the toys we purchased (prosocial). When he begged for “army guys” we initially said no…but then he promised to only reenact scenes from Toy Story and not play war, so we acquiesced. We bought squirt guns because they seemed harmless and – let’s admit it – they are a lot of fun! We insisted on calling them “squirters” to somehow differentiate them from weapons.
When Zip went off to kindergarten, there were new requests. “Can’t I watch Ninja Turtles? My friends watch it.” One show won’t hurt, we reasoned. He’s six now. Maybe just on the weekends. Just so he knows enough to talk with his buddies. We limited the frequency of ‘junk shows’ and I hoped he would quickly lose interest in them. He didn’t. His diet of Wild Kratts and Electric Company was slowly replaced by Ninja Turtles, Ninjago, and Star Wars.
The Problem With It All
And while research doesn’t support a link between playing with toy guns and future violence, the combination of toys guns and aggressive television was sending things in a direction I wasn’t comfortable with, especially with my preschooler.
In contrast, what his little brother absorbed from the television shows was: “Let’s battle! Let’s fight!” and then he turned to the toy gun to re-enact what he’d seen. Four-year-olds are all about action, not cognition, and what he took away from these shows and books was not the story-line but the violence. Bee started to seem more interested in light saber battles and shooting things with a toy gun than with other activities. I was not okay with that.
But I felt like Zip, as a 4-year-old, had also carried with him a level of innocence and naivete that I saw his sweet brother losing. Maybe that is part of being a little brother – growing up faster. But I can do my part to slow things down. I can do my part to protect him from things I don’t want him exposed to yet, because he isn’t mature enough to handle it.
What We Did About It
One afternoon, when I’d had enough and my momma-instinct was telling me something needed to be done, I explained to the boys our position on violent tv and toy guns. I told them their daddy and I didn’t like where things were going and we were taking a big step back.
We eliminated any television show with fighting or violence, for both boys. Gone. No more.
I know there will be times our kids watch shows that show aggression – it is hard to avoid, especially when they leave our house. I know that they will play with toys guns now and then, for the same reason. And I know that as they get older, we’ll probably loosen up a bit. But for now, with a 4-year-old in the house, these things won’t have a place in our home.
The Bigger Picture
When I walk through the toy aisles at our favorite stores, I notice just how many toys marketed to children involve weapons of some sort. It frightens me. It scares me to think what message we are giving to children, boys especially, when so many toys are based on conflict and weaponry.
For more information, check out the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s Fact Page on Children and TV Violence.