Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Boys Toys" : The gun-play debate

We received this toy catalogue in the letterbox yesterday. In the past I've occasionally, despite my anti-consumerism instincts, let my children look through these catalogues for fun.

Luckily I had the forethought to flick through this one myself before leaving it in a child-accessible area. Maybe it was the $8.74 nerf "Quick Firing Blaster with Rotating Barrel / Maverick Refill and Reload" dartgun advertised on the cover??

a sample of the "toys" advertised in the catalogue
I was shocked at the range of violent toys on offer. They advertise a "sniper" rifle wii game amongst the toy kitchens and tonka trucks. Our children do not need hunting rifles or fauz-uzies. Urgh. Especially when they're all being advertised as "boys toys". The images reproduced here are just a sample of the content.

We have a strict no-gun policy in our house. That means no gun-toys and no playing with household objects as if they were guns. My boys do attempt to subvert this rule and my husband has suggested at times that maybe we could be more lenient and in some ways I do wonder the same - my concern is that in my being so restrictive about it that I create desire - but I honestly cannot stand watching my children engage in violent play for fun. 
Do you allow gun-play in your home? And if not, how do you navigate the current violence-as-entertainment-is-cool culture? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this debate. 

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Comments :


  1. As ever, Amber, you have opened up an interesting depbate!!

    At my school we have not banned guns outright. There is a lot of research (which I have not read fully) that suggests that gun play in itself is only an extension of the play that boys have always engaged in - 1000 years ago it would have been sword play! The argument that goes parallel with this is that boys are genentically hardwired to learn how to pretect the tribe. In our society that includes policemen with guns and soldiers fighting the Taliban and so on.

    However, as Montessorians we are educating the children to understand, embrace and promote peace, so how do we fit those two ideas together.

    Well, in my school, if we have a particuarly insistant run of gun play we educate those children as to why guns and when guns are used - peacekeeping, law-keeping etc. We have the advantage of having very strict gun laws in the UK! We also talk (in an age appropriate way) of how guns are misused.

    I think banning anything will make it more glamourous but educating the children as to why you do not want to see them playing like that often helps them make that decision for themselves. Be prepared to revisit the subject over the years as their understanding grows.

  2. Hahaha! Anna - you are quickly becoming my voice of reason!

    I think you are right in saying that there is sort kind of genetic hardwiring towards this sort of thing in boys. As per the links I am attaching below, I see boys fashion guns out of all sorts of mundane materials (think, breadcrusts!) even when they have had very minimal exposure to guns (in movies & books etc). And that there may be a tendency for the taboo object (whatever it may be) to become glamourised...


    It's such a tricky one. While i do talk to them about why we don't allow guns play I probably usually do this in a reactive as opposed to a proactive way. So, that is probably something that I can do differently.

    I don't think that I could ever allow them to own any of the toys featured in the toy catalogue but I do think that having a clearer understanding of the genetic disposition towards this play may benefit our family.

  3. Here are a few more interesting discussions on this subject (some referencing Montessori):

  4. "Maria Montessori believed strongly that peace in society comes about through the child. First and fore- most the child needs to find inner peace. That comes about through purposeful freely chosen activity. In your home this will include activities that hold his attention and allow him to concentrate, for example cooking, painting, puzzles and books. The next important thing to remember is that children imitate our attitudes and what we do. If you are peaceful and non-violent, your son will be like that too.
    We all played games as children that involved pretend killing in some way – cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers. We did not learn to be violent from those games if we knew they were fantasy. Dr Montessori suggested avoiding such games for young children under 4 or 5 years as she said they were unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. However when children reach about 5 years and enter the phase of social group development, they naturally form gangs and play healthy games of rivalry. Montessori stressed that such rivalry was the way in which children learned to identify with a social group. When those games involve guns in a pretend play context they will not be harmful if adults don’t interfere and make the children unnaturally competitive with each other".

    food for thought /

  5. My son has just started playing "superheros" at home and at times it looks violent - no guns yet but lots of jumping and kicking around. This has come from him playing with friends. The problem is what to do about it. We certainly don't encourage it although he has asked for a superhero themed birthday party. Eeek!

  6. Amber, those links loko great and I am going to have a good read!

    For what it is worth, I do not allow my son to have gun toys either, even water guns make me uncomfortable, although that could be because I hate getting wet and I know they would be turned on me at some point!

    Also, my boy has two sisters who are completely uninterested in gun play so at home he gets not encouragement. I know that at shcool they go through phases of playing gun games but usually the lure of the cricket nets or rugby practice is greater, so again, it is pushed aside.

    At school we have one boy in particular who wants to play army games all the time. He is too young to get too specific with but sometimes I have to fight the urge to show him something horrific to shock him into realising how unglamourous they are. I would be interested to find out how children from war zones play....!

  7. Another comment!
    As I was reading the different articles, I was suddenly engulfed by a vivid memory.
    I was around 16 years old and a few friends and I were at school. I think maybe exams had just finished and we were feeling very silly. We were acting as if there were snipers or some sort of enemy and we were covering each other as we ran from safe place to safe place across the schools quad and through the teaching block to whatever the dstination was. we made our hands into gun shapes and made the pow-pow noises. we were all girls too although it was a co-ed school.

    My point is, I was 16, I knew full well what war and guns were all about and was a pacifist, yet this game was the best fun ever. We got into a lot of trouble for it because we messed our uniforms up and disturbed countless lessons as we ramaged!

    Maybe it is possible for children over the age of around 6 to separate their knowledge of reality - guns are violent and used only for violence, and fantasy - they are a useful accessory to a fun game that wouldn't be quite the same without the illusion of danger?!

  8. Well, even if you have no guns in the house, boys are quite capable of finding other things to pretend with guns: fingers and even, um, some other anatomy! ;) lol. Yes, my son, at the age of about 2.5-3, used his special anatomy to make the shooting sounds.

    Really, I think, that's what a lot of the gun play for boys is about: the sounds. That and the aspect of catching someone.

    There is certain types of gun play we have not allowed: never allowed to pretend to kill a pet, never hold a gun to someone's head, never shoot (even if it's just noise) at someone who is not a part of the game. This has been big: if you are all in agreement and having fun, then that's great. If somebody's not a part of it, you can not shoot at them. Doesn't matter if it's noise, water gun or Nerf gun. We also do not allow anything that actually looks like a real gun.

    So, yes, my son is 10 now and we have Nerf guns and some water guns. These are all played with regularly, especially with his 10yo cousin who comes after school. They know very clearly that real guns can kill and they know the rules we require. Most of the time, they don't even use the "bullets" in the Nerf guns (they go missing or they want to use them outside, where the bullets are not allowed). They have never become violent in this play and I will even join in sometimes. :) (Yes, I'm a mom!)

    After age 6, yes, they have a different understanding of everything. Their gun play, from what I've observed, is more like a dramatic play involving guns. They have a whole story line included in their play, it's not just about shooting each other to hurt someone. If you were to actually place a real gun near my son, I doubt he would even want to touch it. It's not about the gun--it's about the whole game involved.

  9. LaLeLu - hahaha! That made me laugh :) 
    I think that what you said about *sound* is interesting. Particularly in relation to the younger child. 

    I also liked your rules - especially the one about not pretending to shoot anyone who isn't wanting to play that game. 

    Thanks Anna, once again, for your insightful comments. It is interesting to consider our own "relationship" with gun-culture. I'm sure at some stage I've enjoyed playing a similar game as you did at 16 (though maybe not on such a grand scale ;) & now that I think of if I remember taking some quite glamorised photographs of a woman with a gun when I was at University.

    I think that it just feels quite different in relation to young boys (in my experience) when it's included in rough & tumble play. Boys have a deeper need to express aggression physically & it's certainly something I have always struggled with as the mother of 2 boys. 

    As you mentioned, in having 2 sisters your son has no partners in that type of activity at home. Hallelujah ;) My boys are quite rough & competitive with each other. When they're bored - not 'normalised' shall we say - they revert to their base game of annoying each other and appear to love nothing more than elbowing the other as they walk past, throwing Lego blocks or actually hurting each other if they're upset. Ie. generally driving me slightly crazy! But it was really interesting when we recently stayed with some good friends who have 2 boys also. Their boys have less restriction on these things & are allowed to "play" fighting/killing games with their Lego (for example) and... they actually don't seem to *ever* fight with each other . It's like all their natural aggression is channeled out through the game. It was kinda fascinating.

    Hello Kylie - welcome to the conversation! I hope it - and the links above - help you with your Superheroe woes. Btw, your blog looks great & I just subscribed :)

  10. Amber, Is it ok if I add you to my Australian Montessori bloggers list?

  11. I have girls so for some reason (DNA?) we have not had that issue come up. I think if I were a parent of boys I'd have a hard time w. gun play but at the same time I'd feel guilty about not letting them play shoot-em-up boys games. My friend has a son and has forbidden (in a nice way) gun play and has a peace-oriented home but was amazed to find him making his fingers into guns and pointing them at a young age/wanting to do gun play - while his sister never did. She was just baffled! Is it a boy thing? Who knows. PS: I really love coming to your blog - you are so artistic and have such a sense of beauty on it. I love your blog.

  12. Hi Ado! & gosh, thank you! Flattery will get you everywhere ;)

    I always wanted to have boys (though *secretly* I do wish I had a girl too :) but these issues never occurred to me before having children. My husband & I are both pretty relaxed, peaceful people so a surge of little boys running their never-ending battles through the house kinda came as a surprise to me! Lol.

    But, in a way, maybe it's the hidden gift. You know - that thing about your hardest challenges being the most bountiful? I think I've still got a lot to learn & I hope I am able to do the best by my beautiful boys and help guide them to becoming strong, kind Peaceful men ♥

    Btw, I'm kinda old-skool sentimental about water-pistols (Sorry Anna! Avert your eyes ;) & sometimes think it would be a fun thing because I have memories from my childhood. But we have lots if other fun water play & I'm sure they've played with them at their cousins house!



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