You see, it all started when we went on a play date with friends of ours. The family we were visiting has a new baby girl we will call Babette. They also have an almost 4-year-old boy, who has since turned 4, who we can call Titan.
I got to talking with the Dad, and he mentioned how difficult it was to keep Titan from encountering guns in one form or another. The conversation switched to a recent kids party in which the boys played with toy guns, as boys will do, by "shooting" each other. Titan didn't really know what to do with that and kind of floundered in the game. Having never been exposed to that kind of play, Titan was like a giraffe in space. Seeing this confusion, they broke down and gave Titan a water gun they were saving for him. Despite the water gun gift, they were still set on shielding Titan from too much exposure going forward.
But this whole incident got me thinking: How hard would it be to not expose a 4-year-old to guns?
So I set off to make it a challenge, because of course I did. I'm almost always up for a challenge. It reaches something primal in me. Challenging my ability or willingness to do something will almost always ensure that I do, in fact, do it.
But could I keep my threesome from encountering guns or gun violence or using guns for a week?
It turns out, I can't.
Partly because what counts as "shooting" is pretty hard to define. Or at least more work that I was willing to put into this project. I know as you read that last sentence you are probably questioning my work ethic. But trust me, its surprisingly hard. Is a cannon on a pirate ship OK? How about magic from a wand? Water about a water cannon used to hit a person? Guns actually appear - though they aren't used - in the original Wizard of Oz as the quartet heads off through the haunted forest.
It was also partly because my kids only really watch TV or use tablets while I'm making dinner and its just too hard to sit and watch what each of them is watching while also making any kind of meal.
Still, I'm fairly confident they don't get too much exposure. One of my boys is currently focused entirely on My Little Pony and another is completely hooked on music and videos. My girl has, somehow, managed to find parenting Vlogs and spends all her time watching adults tote kids to the pool and grocery store. You would think, since this is literally her life, that it might be boring to her. You'd be wrong.
Anyway, not a lot of shooting going on in My Little Pony, though they do shoot "rays" of magic from their horns pretty frequently. Would that count?
Thankfully, it appears that playing with toy guns is OK; its the real thing we need to worry about. And its a very real worry.
Speaking of parental worries, how is this for "all your parenting is for nothing" category:
Marjorie Sanfilippo, a psychologist at Eckerd College in Florida, has conducted a series of terrifying experiments illustrating that boys and girls simply don’t listen when you warn them about guns. In her first study, published in 1996, she let pairs of 4- to 6-year-old children play in a room with various toys including real and toy guns. Then she and a local police officer spent 30 minutes educating one of the children in each pair about the dangers of guns—among other things, that they are never to be touched without a parent’s permission and that kids should always find an adult if they come across one.
A week later, she put the pair of children back together in the same room again to play. “What we found is that the children who had the lessons played with the guns just as much as the children who didn’t—and they didn’t leave the area to get an adult, and they didn’t stop the friend from playing with it. It was as if they’d gotten no lessons whatsoever,”A follow up study involved a full week of firearms education with similar results. Sanfilippo concludes: “There’s no amount of teaching that can overcome that natural curiosity about guns."
Well, that is encouraging. Think about that next time you blame parenting for a child's behavior or decide to credit your own parenting for how well your child acts in a given situation. Some kids climb out of their cribs before they turn one, some don't climb out until they are almost four. We can put up rules, gates and barriers, but kids are going to do what their genes tell them.
But do those facts mean we should steer kids away from toy guns? Surprisingly, perhaps not. While not all aggression and violence is normal, studies show that kids who have stuffed animals display aggressive actions often behave less aggressively in class. There is, of course, all kinds of causation-correlation noise in the data, but the thinking is that the pretend play may actually help them navigate violent impulses.