Toy weapons and war play

I have been pondering toy guns over the last few days as my daughter saw children playing with toy guns for the first time a few days ago. She has not mentioned it, she didn’t ask what they were and on the surface it appears not to have affected her. It has affected me though, it has reminded me yet again that as my children get older I know I will begin to encounter difficult situations where they are exposed to things I would prefer they were not exposed to. Things that they may ask me about, things that I would like to be able to discuss without giving judgement laden responses. I know also that children are so very perceptive and even though she’s not mentioned seeing the toy guns, she would have noticed them and they would have made some kind of impact.

I’m not comfortable with toy weapons. Increasingly so as I become more involved in the refugee rights movement again, this time with more personal involvement with people whose lives have been torn apart by war. Often literally, with many refugees having prosthetic limbs because they’ve stepped on land mines. People who are very traumatised by their experiences with real weapons, real violence.

I feel that toy guns (and, in fact, all toy weapons) are a glorification of war, and I feel that war is… I actually can’t even articulate the sorrow and anger I feel with regard to war. I can’t see anything positive in war. I am committed to non-violence. That certainly doesn’t mean I am never violent, I am very ashamed to acknowledge that I have yelled at my children in anger on several occasions, that I have handled my children roughly when I’ve strapped them into their car seat or pulled them roughly away from a game before they’re ready. My committment to non-violence is a committment to work on ways to address my anger issues (of which I have many), to learn to express anger in a healthy way, to reprogramme my default behaviour when faced with a stressful or anger-inducing situation. For myself, for the people I love, and for people I don’t even particularly like I am committed to non-violence.

I know it’s naive to wish I could protect my children from all exposure to violence when we live in a culture that is quite numb to it. Violence for entertainment, violence on the news. Even without a television or electronic games they’ll be exposed to it in our society, often in very subversive ways. I feel very sad though, that children even know what guns are, that they can conceive to pretend that an inanimate object is a gun when a toy gun is not available.

I have a stance against dolls that represent an unhealthy body image (Barbie, Bratz etc) & princessification (thanks Siobhan), and I feel that my stance against toy guns comes from a very similar place.

I wish to express to my children, through my rejection of certain toys & imagery, that some ideas including (but not limited to) war, “beauty” as media/dominant westernised culture portrays it, intolerance of (racial, physical, sexual, gendered, cultural etc.) differences go against my ethics.

I’m also wary of imposing my own ethics on my children as I know that I’m not necessarily right and I know that other people have very different ethics from me. I know, for example, that some people who I love dearly believe that my choice to consume animal products is unethical. Even though I am very conscious of where the animal products I consume come from (organic & biodynamic farming practices, raising backyard chooks to kill ourselves), these people who I love, who also love me, do not agree with me on this one. Despite differences in our value systems, we’re able to respect each other, and while I value that so much I do think that unconditional acceptance is something of a myth for me, I must be honest about that. I love to believe in unconditional acceptance but I don’t know if I am infallible enough to actually accept everything my children may choose unconditionally in much the same way that I am committed to non-violence despite being unable to control violent tendencies in myself completely (yet).

I believe I will always love my children, regardless of choices they may make in future that I don’t agree with. If I’m honest though, I know I would feel very disappointed if either of my children chose to engage in war in any way (for example). I believe I would still love them unconditionally, yet I believe I may not be able to unconditionally accept some choices they make. Of course this is all theorising right now, I can’t know how I would respond if not faced with the situation. I would hope that even when my children make choices I don’t agree with that I would be able to keep my mouth shut if I have nothing helpful or constructive to say, but then, it’s all down to perspective isn’t it? I may think that vocalising my displeasure at their choice is helpful and constructive, while they may not.

I know that for now, while I am our children’s primary care-giver I will not allow toy guns in our home because I do not wish to normalise war by accepting war play into our daily lives. I wish that it was not a scenario I have to ponder but I like to think that if I see my children engaging in war play I would use it as an opening to discuss my values regarding war in an age appropriate manner. I don’t think it’s helpful to shame them, or other children, for engaging in war play. I think that making a big deal of it could actually have an effect opposite to the desired effect of squashing any interest in war play, turning it into the forbidden fruit instead. With real, honest information I feel confident my children will make informed choices as they grow up, I just wish I didn’t feel so nervous about it!

posted by wildecrafted in education and have Comments (4)

4 Responses to “Toy weapons and war play”

  1. There is an essay in Katrina Kennison’s “Mitten Strings For God” which you may find helpful. She has tow sons and one has never shown any interest in things that (to quote from memory) slice, swat, explode, shoot but her other son has always been fascinated by pirates, swords and guns. Because of her own attitudes towards weapons that son began to name himself “bad”.

    It’s a huge journey. My son now has several gun like toys, a couple of swords too. The rule we have is that they are never to be pointed at anyone. The one time one was, it vanished. Hard lesson to learn. I feel uncomfortable with them and I am especially distressed when the toddler mimics him.

    I also have a brother who served in the police force for a few years and carried a firearm.

    It’s difficult and so many articles in so many natural parenting magazines outline parents’ reactions to their child’s sudden fascination with firearms.

    Trust yourself and your modelling that even if one of your children does become similarly fascinated you will be able to see that it is a phase to go through, like dinosaurs, cars, dolly dressing and dressing up.

    Good luck.

    • Kimba says:

      Thanks for you perspective. I was just thinking about this (still) in the shower & it occured to me that I don’t have a problem with my daughter pretending to hunt with a stick like a spear (I don’t know where she picked that up from actually, little sponge that she is) & my concern with toy guns is when they’re used to mimmick violence and war being perpertrated against other people. I know that is very anthropocentric, it’s ok to hunt an animal but it’s not ok to harm a person. As mentioned though it’s our ethics, and our daughter has already seen us kill some roosters and prepare them for eating. That would go against the ethics of some other people, that would be something another parent might wish to protect their child from. It’s so complex and there is a HUGE grey area. I absolutely agree with the boundary that they are not to be pointed at anyone. I remember having a toy gun pointed at me in a video arcarde as a young teenager and it really distresed me that someone would even play at shooting me. I’m still not comfortable with toy weapons but I hope that I’d be open minded enough not to convince my child that they’re a bad person for pretending a stick was a gun.
      I really believe I would be able to speak appropriately about it without shaming anyone.

      What a rambly response. Obviously there is so much to this topic and it’s probably a value set that will evolve as I think about it and talk about it more to other people.
      I really value hearing perspectives that differ from mine because I need to be challenged on it, whether I end up agreeing or not.
      Thank you.

  2. mimbles says:

    I loathe toy guns and real guns even more so and I have described myself as a pacifist since my teen years. It was therefore somewhat unfortunate that my husband was in the army reserve when I met him and he and his parents did target rifle shooting as a sport. Adam quit the army reserve long before we had kids because it clashed with work commitments, much to my relief, but he was still shooting most Saturdays. He’d go to his parent’s place for lunch and then be gone all afternoon at the range. I could either stay home by myself or come along to let the kids see their grandparents and be sociable. The latter was not attractive but it was politic to do it at least some of the time. So there were guns on the periphery of my kids life at very least and I never did manage to keep toy guns at bay for long.

    I did however enforce a zero tolerance stance on pointing toy guns at anyone who hadn’t actively consented to playing the game at hand and there were long periods when all toy weapons were confiscated and no gun-shaped sticks allowed into the house. (There was quite a collection in the garden at one point, our gardener wondered if we were collecting firewood.)

    Adam stopped shooting when his dad got too ill to go about 8 years ago, he did enjoy it but it was always more about doing something with his parents and it didn’t work as a family activity – apart from anything else it’s the most boring spectator sport in existence.

    Now we’re into historical reenactment and have a house full of swords, bows and arrows, dagger and knives which are definitely not toys and a collection of rubber weapons which is the envy of all the kids who come to play at our house. My 13 year old has been building himself an arsenal of nerf guns which I have to admit are kind of fun – like water pistols but dryer! But the requirement for active consent still stands and violations still result in confiscation.

  3. […] in October 2010 I wrote this post about toy weapons and my (then) feelings toward them. The first comment, from Kestrel, on that post […]

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