When walking down the store aisles, it is nearly impossible to avoid all the toy guns from Nerf, Airsoft, or even specific Star Wars themed blasters, unless you skip the toy sections altogether. Toy guns are everywhere. But as we continue to hear about tragedies in which children hurt themselves with real guns, perhaps not understanding they are not toys, it is natural to wonder if we should let our children play with toy guns.
Because of the increase in violence, some parents have decided to eliminate toy guns altogether from the house. Some families have personal reasons as themselves or loved ones were injured or killed by guns, but others do so simply because they think they are protecting their children from the violence and danger that real guns pose. We think that this is better because if the children aren’t exposed to them at all, they never have to face the danger posed by them.
The truth, however, is that even when we do not bring them into the home physically, children are inundated with visuals of guns through the cartoons they see and the movies and shows that we watch ourselves. This creates a curiosity that when faced with a real gun, many children ignore everything they may know and want to play with it. The question then becomes is taking away toy guns the right action when trying to protect our children? The answer is not simple; it all depends on the children.
The line between real violence and pretend or visualized violence is growing smaller, due to the number of t.v. shows and games that feature unrealistic gun scenes. To bring a more sobering aspect into reality for us, according to data reported to CDC in 2015, the top 3 leading causes of death for American children between the ages of 1 and 19 is genetic defects, homicide, and suicide. In many of these cases, it is involving a gun. Just in 2015, in children and young adults up to 24 years of age who were killed from injury deaths, almost 7,000 deaths were due to firearms. This doesn’t include unintentional accidents or the unreported deaths; this doesn’t include instances where the cause of death wasn’t reported. These are just the intentional uses of firearms to commit homicide and suicide.
So how do we curb this trend?
Many suggest that we teach children how to incorporate and curb their aggression into play. Furthermore, they also suggest that we help them to learn to control their impulses, regulate their emotions, and make sure they understand the difference between reality and play.
In more practical terms, many researchers suggest that play with toy guns is generally fine as long as children are doing so in creative ways. For instance, kids generally will make toy guns out of anything they can get their hands on, playing out an imaginative scenario in their head. Even their play with actual toy guns is usually in some playful scenario. The thing to watch out for in children is whether they are having a hard time separating play from reality and have issues with impulse control problems.
If you do actually decide that you don’t want toy guns in the house, one thing to keep in mind is that when children do make their imaginary ones out of the toys they have, the practice of pretend play is generally considered a good thing. Furthermore, making a big deal of it or shaming them for their play will make them not only want to do it more, but they will begin to do it behind your back.
Also, researchers say that most times a child is pretend playing with weapons and guns, they are usually pretending to be “the good guy”, protecting those who need help. They envision themselves as heroes, even superheroes.
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