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Putting an End to My Son’s Obsession With Toy Weapons

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The One Thing Max Won’t Find Under the Hanukkah Bush This Year

Like a Donald Trump tweet, what I am about to say is probably going to piss off a lot of people. But if the recent election results have taught me one thing, it’s to own your feelings. Have a point of view. And always keep fighting for what you believe in.

That said, I hate guns.

I hate that bullets kill so many innocent people every single day in America. I hate that money and greed is why so many people that shouldn’t have guns, do. And I hate that people are more worried about their Second Amendment rights than they are about the fact that children are dying. (You can call me a tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberal because when it comes to keeping our kids safe — and alive — I give zero f*cks about the government having more control over our lives.) But this article isn’t about that. It’s about a father who doesn’t know how to stop his son from obsessing over guns.

Spoiler alert. I’m talking about me.

My son Max started gravitating towards military toys, particularly guns, around the age of 4. He’s 6 now. And in the past two years, his interest in weapons has intensified significantly. At first, my husband, Alex, and I had a strict no-toy-gun policy. We didn’t allow any toy guns in the house, not even water pistols. But it seemed like the more we fought against it, the more his interest and curiosity grew.

Friends of ours tell us that violent toys won’t do him any harm. “It’s what boys do,” they say. They suggest, “Guns aren’t the problem, people are.” But I don’t get that logic. Folks would have a much harder time killing people without guns. Sure, it’s possible. But no other means is as quick and deliberate. (There’s a reason the armed forces use them.)

Personally, I’m a bit baffled by parents who consciously buy their sons toy rifles and machine guns. Just because kids want or ask for certain things doesn’t mean we as parents have to acquiesce. Isn’t it our job to teach them right from wrong? Isn’t it our job to make decisions in their best interest — decisions that they’re too immature to make on their own? If your child asks you for a 10-pound bag of Skittles, you’d most likely say no, right? Why doesn’t the same go for guns? Candy just rots your teeth. Guns rot your soul.

Yet, guns are inescapable.

When I’m at CVS with Max, he, like most kids, goes straight to the toy section. Right there, between Play-Doh and Transformers are guns. Several different types. Guns with toy bullets, no less. Why? Because American parents keep buying them.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not judging parents who let their kids play with toys. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. And it doesn’t mean your child is destined for a life of crime. I just find it disappointing. Especially when my kid comes over for a playdate and your son introduces him to his excessive toy gun collection. All it takes is one boy who’s very into guns to influence an entire group of boys. And this is nothing new. Kids have always played with toy guns. But the world is different now. Today there are social media and 24-hour news. What we were once shielded from is now in our face every time we glance at our phones.

Children are dying from guns. Every. Single. Day.

Just as I’m writing this article I received a notification on my phone that said a Florida man fired a gun at a woman because “she was typing too loudly.” And I read headlines like this on a daily basis. Then there’s the other issue. One that puts into the question the safety of our children. A young child in California was recently killed by a police officer after mistakenly identifying the pellet gun he was carrying as an AK-47.

The list of incidents in which police have shot kids who turned out to be wielding toys is happening so often that California has put into effect a new law that requires all toy guns to be manufactured in bright colors to instantly read “IT’S A TOY. DON’T SHOOT.” Has it come to this? Really? How about instead we simply stop making, selling and marketing them?

Toy guns seem to be a no-win situation. So when will enough be enough?

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In order to truly understand both sides of the argument, I talked to other parents. Lots of them, in fact. Some who encourage gun play and others who forbid it. I learned a lot. And I entered into a fascinating debate as to whether imaginative play and allowing children to play with toy guns in a play setting encourages violence or allows children to role play and develop important skills.

ARGUMENT #1: Toy guns are part of being a kid. Moreover, part of being a little boy. It’s important to encourage dramatic play as it plays a crucial role in a child’s development.

MY REACTION: Can’t little boys imagine Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers with bows-and-arrows and handcuffs? Is the gun part necessary?

ARGUMENT #2: Many child experts agree that forbidding gun play only gives pretend guns more power.

MY REACTION: I think it’s less about “power” and more about clarifying the values for you and your family. Think about how you can promote a more peaceful culture at home rather than allowing “Bang Bang” to be the only thing that empowers your child.

ARGUMENT #3: Toy gun play isn’t about violence as much as it is about symbols. Toy weapons symbolize power, leadership, authority, strength and control.

MY REACTION: Bullshit, party of one. We need to teach our kids what to do when they’re angry and how to stand up for themselves and others and speak up when they don’t like something. We should be teaching them how to set limits for themselves and others. And we need to show them how to recover from rejection. (I’m still learning this one.) But most importantly, we must teach them how to resolve conflict and express their emotions in appropriate ways. These are the life skills and symbols that matter most — and none of them can be learned from a toy gun.

ARGUMENT #4: If we outlaw toy guns, every other object — from cheese sticks to pencils to paper towel rolls — will become guns. And just because parents don’t buy their children toy guns doesn’t mean they won’t play with them. It can be a losing battle.

MY REACTION: I don’t believe in the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. There are so many things in life that we, as parents, can’t control. What we permit our children to do and not do in our homes is the one thing we do have control over. Finger and cheese-stick-shaped guns, in my opinion, carry less of a negative connotation that a toy gun. And it sets a precedent. It draws a very clear boundary. In reading up on the topic I found zero data to indicate that a child who plays with toy guns will grow up to be violent. But that’s not my fear. My fear is that my son grows up not understanding how dangerous guns are and how precious life is. My fear is that he becomes desensitized to violence. My fear is that he enjoys the pretend act of taking a life away. I know, it’s my job to teach him the dangers. It’s my job to teach him to respect the lives of others. But that’s hard for a child his age to comprehend.

While I clearly see where both sides are coming from, my mind has not changed.

I really wish this wasn’t a conversation we have to have. But it is. And we should have it. At the end of the day, I am well aware that toy guns aren’t the same as real guns. But the way I see it — they both kill people, even if it’s only in our imagination. And I’m not OK with that. Not on my watch.

And that’s why — despite Max’s long wish list of violent toys — Santa will be checking his list twice to find out which toys are naughty or nice before visiting our chimney.

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