19 December 2009

Letting Boys Be Boys

I got to play Santa Claus on Friday. Toys for Tots was delivered and those of us who were available spent the day (all three hours of it due to early release because of the snow) matching toys with children. Toys for Tots is huge at our school and most of our students receive a gift. I always have a lot of energy when we begin and there are lots of toys to choose from, but it becomes tiresome sorting through the last bit of toys trying to put together a decent gift after hours of choosing and bagging.

Every year we have the dilemma of what to do with the toy guns that we receive. Since we are a public school, we really can't give them out. But that means they are left over, sitting unopened in a box in an office somewhere. This year, I was particularly frustrated by some of the toys that were set aside. One was a set complete with camo hat, toy compass and other soldier paraphernalia, including a very fake-looking plastic rifle. It was in the box with the toy cowboy pistols and the Nerf guns. Our school social worker and I protested some of what was set aside, including the soldier set. I could imagine Isaac with that set having a great time playing soldier.

I have mixed feelings about guns in general, and I don't love that my son plays with guns. But I also know that there is very little I can do to repress those tendencies. Since he was two, anything that could possibly pass for a gun or a sword or a light saber has been wielded by Isaac in some imaginary battle. Boys don't need toy guns to include them in their play. All they need is an imagination. So what do we accomplish by denying them toy guns except to place some mysterious power over weapons that makes them even more intriguing to curious little boys?

Seeing the box of toy guns also reminded me of a discussion I had been part of just the day before at a meeting of school librarians. We were sharing our reviews of new books and one librarian showed us an Eyewitness book she had purchased. This series is very popular, especially with boys. Each book provides in-depth details and illustrations about its topic. The one she showed us was Battle. It is not great literature, but it is what the boys want, so she bought it for her library. Isaac would love the Battle book, just to see the pictures of the weapons that have been used throughout time. Just as he loves the Star Wars Visual Dictionary which includes any and every battleship and weapon even glimpsed in the movies. It was not said at the table during the discussion, but I am sure more than one of us wondered how we would handle a challenge to a book of that sort. It is within the realm of possibility that someone would find that book, or similar books on similar topics, objectionable because of the concern that they somehow promote violence. I am not sure how I would handle it. I hope I never have to figure it out.

Isaac has toy guns, he has books about weapons, he has seen movies with fight scenes. He is not a violent child, nor do I think he is in danger of confusing play fighting with how to appropriately interact with other children. He does need to learn how to control his pretend play, but that is part of the maturing process all children go through as they assert themselves and test their boundaries. Matt and I will protect him by continuing to have conversations with him about being compassionate and caring and, of course, what to do when he is around real guns, not by denying him the experience of playing with toy weapons.

We will be finishing the toy distribution on Monday. I am not sure if the soldier set has been assigned to someone, and I do not have final say about whether or not it will be. I will argue my point, as I am known to do, but I may lose. If I do, the soldier set will join the guns from past Toys for Tots distributions and disappear into some deep, dark closet never to be played with. And I will hang up my Santa hat until next year.


  1. Boy, can I relate to this dilemma! I tried restricting gun play for the early years of my oldest son's life, only to realize I was fighting a losing -- and possibly wrong -- battle.

  2. I fought hard until we visited Dollywood last year. The only souvenir Isaac would consider was a toy rifle. I gave in and he slept with the thing for weeks!

    Guns will be part of his life because they are a part of Matt's family. I have just realized that it is more important to educate him than to keep them away from him. And it is important for me to become comfortable with them and with his fascination with them.