I was standing in line at the grocery store Friday night picking up some stuff for Toren’s birthday party.  The woman checking out in front of me was chatting with the employee scanning her purchases – I think they were discussing recipes.  I wasn’t really paying very close attention.  I put all of my groceries on to the conveyor belt and was waiting quietly.  After a few minutes, another family pushed their cart up behind mine.  It was a mother, her daughter, the daughter’s husband, and the grandson.  The grandson looked to be about 5 or 6 and was sitting in the child seat in the cart.  I glanced back at them quickly, then turned back around as it was almost my turn to check out.

As the woman in front of me finished up and the employee started scanning my items, I turned around one more time to see the people behind me.  Little did I realize that I would be staring down the barrel of a fully automatic assault rifle:

toy M16

Yep, the 5 or 6 year-old kid was pointing his toy M16 at me and firing away.  His parents and grandmother were ignoring him, but for some reason the intent look on his face as he filled me full of 5.56 x 45mm (.223 Remington) bullets repeatedly was a little disturbing.  He looked like he was engaged in serious business – destroying the enemy.  Apparently the really white guy with the goatee buying groceries was the enemy.

This prompted an obvious thought in my head: Should a kid be allowed to play with a toy like that?

I had toy weapons growing up – guns, knives, swords, etc.  I also had army men.  By the time I was 7 or 8 I had a BB gun and by about 14 I had a 22 caliber rifle.  I never killed anyone, though I did almost shoot one of my best friend’s eyes out (sorry Tyler; I still feel bad about that BB gun fight).  I also had a paintball gun and played paintball.  I’m not, now, a particularly violent person.  In fact, I’m quite anti-guns.  But I’m not sure letting kids play with guns increases the odds of violent behavior.  Thoughts, anyone?

(Oh, and just so everyone knows, there are no plans to buy Toren any violent toys – no guns, knives, swords, or army men.)

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14 Replies to “I’ve been shot!”

  1. @Mike
    Good perspective, Mike. Maybe kids do need to experience the “pretend weapons” just to experience them. Maybe it’s part of our DNA – we are in “competition” as evolving animals. But it just seems counter to my current sensibilities and it is hard to think about it being okay today. I’ll probably just have to struggle with this for a while.

  2. I’m like you, Ryan. My childhood was filled with games of cowboys & indians, fantasies re-enacting battles on Iwo Jima and the jungles of Vietnam. I made models of warships, Cobra helicopters, and more. Now I shudder when my son wants to play with dart guns, swords, light sabers, bow & arrows.

    It is hard to divorce my past experience from my present attitudes, and to see how the two may affect my son. One of the things that really changed my attitude was while I was playing with military strategy games. (Avalon Hill made most of them. Things like Wooden Ships & Iron Men, Squad Leader, Tobruk, and others were great problem-solving, thinking games.) And one day I moved from thinking about them abstractly to thinking of them more tangibly. When one side attacked and defeated another, and I removed the piece from the board, it wasn’t just a piece to me any longer, it was a group of 20 people. I played them a few more times, but the games soon lost their attraction.

    I don’t know if the same will happen to my son or to Toren, but I am hopeful. It seems like one of those experiential things. If I push too hard against him, Paul becomes more determined to play with pretend weapons. Finding balance seems to be key.

  3. Where does your current consumption of violent games such as Nexuiz fall into the picture? This is what current UAV control stations look like (from the comfort of US soil): . com/watch?v=ok81HCZ6fdQ
    Or ground bots:
    – TED talk with demo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1pr683SYFk
    – Picture version (scroll down): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_robot

    By the time Toren is old enough to potentially do any real ‘killing’, it won’t be much different than your video game. Knifing someone is old school. Shooting someone face to face is going to be old school. He’ll experience violent situations whether you knowingly present him with the opportunity or not.

    1. Yeah, this is my next concern. I still play violent video games on occasion, and do think I’m any worse off as a result. So I have to wonder if it’s okay for Toren to play them. Debi leans against it, but I see Toren as my gaming partner! 😉

  4. I think that it is healthy and natural for kids to play with guns and pretend but perhaps “Toy m-16’s” are a little overkill….There needs to be a happy balance..at least that is what we strive to do with our boys..

  5. We never really had guns around for Tate to play with. Like you, it just doesn’t fit my values. And seriously, what is cute about a four year old “pretend” killing someone. That just seems wrong to me.

  6. @Gabriel Chard
    Yeah, I’m really torn about this. As I noted in my original post – I played with guns, but fake and real, growing up. I also play violent video games on occasion and the scientific evidence on that seems to suggest heightened aggression during and for a short while after the game, but otherwise minimal long term effects. Hmmm…. Still wondering.

    @Megan
    Tate has clearly turned out fine despite the lack of guns. Has he ever pretending that he had a gun or used something in place of a gun?

    I agree that it’s disturbing to watch a four year-old pretend kill someone. I just wonder about long-term consequences.

  7. @Megan
    That’s intriguing. It does make me think that maybe there is a genetic component to this – some people are just interested in instruments of violence; others are not. I hope Toren isn’t.

  8. The thing with Tate is that guns, cars, action figures, etc has never been his thing. He has never used other things as a weapon. So lucky for me I have never had to cross that bridge. We will just have to wait and see what Gideon is like and if I will have to make the choice to buy him guns or not. Before we had Tate I always said I would never have guns in my house. Lucky, he made my ultimatum really easy to follow through with.

  9. I did a report for college a few years back and most of the material I found on this subject indicated that no matter what toys you give most little boys, they’ll pretend they are guns and swords and have at it. little girls will use whatever is handy to make a doll and pretend it’s a baby. It’s just in the DNA. Men are programmed to make a family, then protect it. Ask any dad, it’s just how it goes. I didn’t know my child at all when she was born, but I would have gone to unspeakable lengths to keep her safe.

    That being said, I really don’t see any correlation between giving a kid a toy gun then expecting him to grow up as a criminal. Violence is part of human society, history, and politics. That’s just how it is. You would be doing your child a grave misservice by pretending that violence doesn’t exist, and furthermore, a child should be taught when violence is justified. I would think the key is how a parent teaches a kid to deal with violence.

    I play a wide variety of violent video games all the time, ranging from First Person Shooters to Real Time Strategy. I’ve killed hundreds of thousands of bad guys in all manner of violent and gruesome ways. I like guns and swords and I love studying warfare and strategy. That being said, I think the last time I got in a real fight was in the fifth grade, and I didn’t pick the fight, some dude sucker punched me in a misunderstanding, then he ran away when he realized I wasn’t going to just stand there and take it.

    It’s not the toys that make the difference, it’s the parenting.

  10. I did, when I wrote the report 4 years ago. 🙂 It was a report for a Spanish class, actually, so I was graded on language more than content, but I do recall having several good sources for the information. Didn’t save the report though.

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