Hold your stomachs--toy gun article


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Monkeyleg
June 10, 2006, 07:18 PM
Holstering pretend weapons

Worried parents take aim at play, media influence

By SHARON MILLER CINDRICH
Special to the Journal Sentinel

Posted: June 9, 2006

"Bang, bang . . . you're dead."

This chant could be heard along many neighborhood streets 30 years ago, as kids pulled out a cap gun, a toy rifle, or a handy finger-and-thumb pistol to nab a bad guy, hold up a pretend bank or apprehend an imaginary outlaw.

Today, however, weapon play that once seemed an innocent part of childhood has become more of a concern. When April Klinter's 7-year-old son engaged in some gunplay with sticks on the school playground, Klinter was called to a school meeting.

"His teacher became concerned about their gunplay and called a group of us to school to talk about it," Klinter, of Saukville, says.

Barb Luedke, who is the mother of boys ages 7and 9 and also works with children, does not allow gunplay in her home.

"When other kids are visiting our house, I explain that we don't have gun play or other weapons," the Wisconsin Rapids parent says.

According to a study by the Children's Medical Center in Washington, D.C., about two-thirds of parents felt it was never OK for a child to play with toy guns, and a similar proportion responded that they never allowed their children to do so.

While a majority of parents may not like gunplay, controlling a child's interest in weapons can be difficult.

Families such as the Martenssons of Wauwatosa struggle daily to encourage non-weapon play despite their children's seemingly innate interest in guns.

"I have two boys who make everything, including their sandwiches, into guns. We had banned toy guns from the house, but it doesn't really matter. They make guns out of anything and everything," says Zan Martensson, adding that the boys have created imaginary guns out of sticks, croquet mallets, even nibbling their toast into the shape of a gun.

War play has been around for ages - artifacts that suggest toy weapons have been found from ancient Egypt and the Middle Ages.

Just a few decades ago, children played with cap guns and little green army men and parents barely blinked an eye.

So what's the difference now?

Television, says Diane E. Levin, adding that increased exposure to media, advertising and real world events plays a larger part in children's daily lives today, increasing their interest in weapons and directing their play.

Levin, author of "The War Play Dilemma: What Every Parent and Teacher Needs to Know," is a professor at Wheelock College in Boston who has been researching how violence affects children's social development for the last 20 years.

Written with research associate Nancy Carlsson-Paige, "The War Play Dilemma" explores the issues of war play in relationship to societal influences and the developmental needs of children.

The authors found that an increase in media violence has a direct effect on the war play of today's children.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child watching two hours of cartoons a day will see 10,000 violent incidents each year on television alone.

Video games with weapon themes and online computer games focused on combat are also readily available to today's youths.

Referred to as Generation M, for media, today's kids are consuming media faster than any other segment.

Two-thirds of youths 8 to 18 years old have a television in their rooms, and other media outlets, including video games and Internet use, have increased media consumption almost an hour a day over the last five years.

Children today are exposed to more than eight hours of media content daily (including moments of multitasking when they're experiencing more than one kind of content simultaneously), according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

Marketing and commercial advertising have also changed, Levin says.

"Until 1984, there was a limit on television advertising minutes during children's programming," says Levin.

In 1984, the broadcasting industry was deregulated and product-based shows became legal.

Toy and television industries began positioning thematic toys and products alongside programs that reinforced the desire for those products.

"Industry products makes a childhood culture that seduces children into it," says Levin, resulting in less creative play and more scripted imitation of programs instead.

Exposure to world violence, including images of war, also influences children interest in weapon play.

Real-life video of war seen on 24-hour news channel broadcasts and Internet news stories on world violence are easily accessible by children and reinforce what they experience in the world of fantasy violence.

An issue of gender

"I firmly believe it is genetic," Martensson says of her sons' interest in weapons.

While her boys are making guns out of sticks and nibbling toast crusts into revolvers, Martensson says her 9-year-old daughter is generally not interested in war play.

"Although she will pacify her brothers at times and do it with them, I have not ever seen that this is the type of play she initiates on her own," she says.

Klinter agrees. "My daughter has never really shown interest in playing with guns other than occasionally shooting a squirt gun at her brother or the dog. Her brother is a different story. He has been a toy-gun-toting mini-NRA member since he was about 4."

Historically, men were the primary users of weapons for hunting and fighting.

Levin, however, believes it is much more than genes.

"Whatever influence genetics and biological predispositions play, the society is doing so much to escalate and magnify the differences in gender that we can't even answer that question," Levin says.

While she acknowledges that gender and violence are definitely linked, she believes media influence plays a very significant role in connecting the two. "Marketers know kids are drawn to gender information. The more extreme the information, the more kids are drawn. So the muscles on male action figures are bigger."

Identifying war play dilemma

"Many of our neighbors and friends do allow toy guns and make-believe," Luedke says. "I think my boys understand that I don't want them to play with toy guns. When they are at a friend's house, I know that they will use them. We just keep reminding them that guns are a very dangerous weapon and not a toy."

Luedke's husband, Karl, grew up in the '70s at the end of the Vietnam War and remembers gunplay being associated with playing army.

"My dad put a quick end to my participation. He was a Marine corpsman in Korea and very strict about guns," he says, adding that his father forbade him to point even imaginary guns at another person.

"It was a lesson that began my training with weapons," says Karl Luedke, who competed in shooting competitions at age 15, joined the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ROTC small-bore rifle team in college and trained members of his unit in marksmanship during his service in the Army.

Parents often find themselves conflicted about how much gunplay is acceptable and where to draw boundaries when it comes to their children's experience with toy weapons and violence-oriented play.

"The first thing to do is to identify the dilemma," says Levin, explaining that play is an important developmental process for children, and they use it to explore and work out those issues that they encounter in real life.

An increased exposure to today's media violence and violent current events in the world have created even more reasons for kids to seek out war play and work out their issues of aggression, violence and power.

On the flip side, allowing children to experience excitement and "fun" through the act of killing and shooting is uncomfortable to most parents.

Lessons about power, aggression and destruction as a means of resolving conflict or gaining power are not messages most parents want to reinforce in their children.

"This is a dilemma, and this is why parents feel uncomfortable about war play," says Levin, who believes there are effective, practical strategies for addressing gunplay to meet the developmental needs of a child.

Good gunplay?

Limiting a child's exposure to violence and violent products may seem an obvious solution. However, commercial movies, war footage on television and peer influence make it almost impossible to completely insulate a child from violence.

Working with children on their war play and getting in touch with the content of that play can help them deal best with issues of weapons and violence.

Children are often attracted to toy weapons that are highly structured.

However, these toys can stifle a child's creative play.

A toy weapon that shoots darts, makes shooting sounds or threatening words when used is considered a toy created to be used in a single way.

Toys with commercial ties to television shows or video games that involve weapon play are often used by children in basic imitation, instead of their own creative way.

On the other hand, toys created from a child's imagination allow children to change the use, expand their abilities and reinvent scenarios, meeting their developmental needs.

Guns fashioned from Legos, clay or paper towel tubes can change as the play changes, and children are more likely to direct their own play using these type of weapons.

Before reprimanding and scolding a child who has spent the afternoon creating an arsenal of weapons out of string and sticks from the backyard, Levin suggests talking to that child about the game, identify the difference between reality and play, then encourage the child to expand the imaginary world with questions like, "What if the guns you made shot glue?" Encouraging kids to think beyond the traditional role of the weapon and interjecting suggestions during play can help broaden the content of the play and take the focus off of the violence.

Klinter realizes that the gun games her son plays are not always something she has complete control over. However, she does feel strongly about injecting guidelines for play and using the opportunity to talk about safety.

"We try not to make a big deal out of his gunplay, but we have made it absolutely clear that he is not even to pretend to be shooting people," says Klinter, who also feels strongly about reinforcing the difference between play and reality. "I do believe all parents have an obligation to help their kids understand the dangers about real guns."

Karl Luedke agrees. "Guns require respect and training. I believe the earlier children are told how dangerous they are and are taught properly, the better," says Luedke, whose strong feelings about a parent's role in educating children early on spurred him to purchase a BB gun for his oldest son. "Real guns aren't like those on a video game: Your friend does not have three lives, and doesn't get up with a laugh when you pull a real trigger."

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twency
June 10, 2006, 07:51 PM
"Real guns aren't like those on a video game: Your friend does not have three lives, and doesn't get up with a laugh when you pull a real trigger."
I'm curious, are you upset by the way story is reported, or by some of the people being reported on?

In some ways at least, I think it's a pretty well written article.

I agree that it starts out looking shaky, with parents getting bent out of shape about kids playing with fake guns, but it goes on to encourage parents (including presumably anti-gun parents) to nurture their kids' imaginations, without reflexively getting upset about the idea of the kid playing with a toy gun.

It also encourages parents to make sure their kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality, as in the concluding quote (quoted above). Some kids don't make that distinction as easily as others.

-twency

Nightfall
June 10, 2006, 07:58 PM
Moral of the story is the same one I've read umpteen times about other toys, pretend, video games, TV, etc. Teach your kids the difference between reality and the fantasy world of some computer game or plastic squirt gun.

shermacman
June 10, 2006, 08:05 PM
When my son was a little child my ex-wife refused to let him play with guns. He of course, picked up his plastic trumpet and ran around shouting Bang Bang you're dead.

He is 18 now, and a darn good trap shooter. Hasn't murdered as many people as my state senator, Ted Kennedy (D-UI).

Standing Wolf
June 10, 2006, 10:36 PM
If I'd had children, they'd have grown up with real guns, not toy guns.

Keaner
June 10, 2006, 11:51 PM
I just emailed the professor quoted most often in the article, (Levin), and invited her into this discussion. I think the article is right on, we have a responsibility to teach our children the difference between a game and reality.

BUT, we must be very careful not to overreact like lower education is famous for recently. Boys will always be boys, and no matter how much you dissuade them from playing 'cops and robbers', 'cowboys and indians', or even power rangers, they will still play.

modifiedbrowning
June 11, 2006, 12:10 AM
"Guns fashioned from Legos, clay or paper towel tubes can change as the play changes, and children are more likely to direct their own play using these type of weapons."
Weapons?

Monkeyleg
June 11, 2006, 12:24 AM
twency, the quote you referenced is one of the only sane ones from the article.

I view this article from the perspective of a 55 year-old man, one who was raised around guns. One who, in 7th grade, shot on the school's rifle league in the basement of the high school. In a fairly nice suburb of Milwaukee, to boot.

I view it from the perspective of one who could buy guns through the mail using ads in Boy's Life Magazine; all you had to do was check a box that said you were at least eighteen years old. (Although that was not a federal requirement prior to 1968).

I view it from the perspective of somebody who made toy guns and swords out of pieces of sticks, aluminum foil, or anything else at hand, and played cowboys and indians, or soldier, or whatever else with no apparent harm to my psyche. (Although some here would disagree).

Look at the absurd comments made by the hand-wringers who can't stop their kids from fashioning toy guns out of just about anything, including a sandwich.

It's a standing joke among lawyers that a good prosecutor can convict a ham sandwich, but I'd hate to be the prosecutor going after a kid for fashioning a ham sandwich into the shape of a gun to play cops n' robbers with in his backyard.

So-called "zero tolerance" policies, if they haven't already hit the wall of absolute absurdity, are certainly approaching it quickly.

The above article is just one more example of psycho-babble and liberal angst over guns stirred together in the same pot to achieve the desired recipe: generations of young people who will never embrace gun ownership or the responsibility that comes with it.

I only wish that such proponents would carry their gun phobias to their logical extreme by having their male children castrated at birth. That, at least, would give our society a ray of hope.

antsi
June 11, 2006, 12:43 AM
--------quote--------
"I have two boys who make everything, including their sandwiches, into guns. We had banned toy guns from the house, but it doesn't really matter. They make guns out of anything and everything," says Zan Martensson, adding that the boys have created imaginary guns out of sticks, croquet mallets, even nibbling their toast into the shape of a gun.
----------------------

This is an ironic commentary on the gun control mindset. Ban guns, and they still find a way to come up with them.

One of the major points of the article makes no sense to me. They are saying that throughout the ages kids have played with toy weapons and nobody worried about it. Now, kids play with toy weapons and people are worried about it. This is somehow due to a change in media content and exposure? It sounds like kids have stayed the same, but many parents have adopted blissninny expectations of their kids' play. If anyone in this article isn't distinguishing between reality and fantasy, it's the PARENTS.

Pilgrim
June 11, 2006, 12:57 AM
I only wish that such proponents would carry their gun phobias to their logical extreme by having their male children castrated at birth. That, at least, would give our society a ray of hope.
Best suggestion I've seen in a long time.

Pilgrim

akanotken
June 11, 2006, 01:14 AM
Well, at least the ones that are scary looking and any thing that's been salted. After all, a"salt" sandwichs are more dangerous than hunting sandwichs.

Chrontius
June 11, 2006, 04:34 AM
Pilgrilm, get a clue.
Monkeyleg, same goes for you.

Where the [Art's grammaw] do you think I came from?

Akanotken - owch. That one hurt. I groaned out loud.

Manedwolf
June 11, 2006, 06:21 AM
Funny. Every kid I grew up with ran around with guns that shot caps and made electronic bang sounds, playing war, shouting "You're dead!"...and all knew it was play, imaginary.

None of them became violent or shot up a high school.

Amazing.

RangerHAAF
June 11, 2006, 09:01 AM
The repression of aggressive male urges and tendencies at an early age definitely contributes to overcompensation later on in life. For example, when I was growing up I had my BB guns and pellet guns to hunt and kill birds and squirrels. This was a natural occurrence and was expected and encouraged in my family as it was my grandmother who bought me my first BB gun.

I loved it and I respected it. I knew I had an important responsibility and I never abused the trust she had in me. However as I grew older I wanted to go deer hunting with my uncle and was always told no for some reason or other. As time went on I lost interest in guns but being in the army rekindled my association with them and when I became a civilian I decided to pick up hunting where I left off and there would be no one to tell me no this time.

Of course I joined the NRA and was hopping mad when Clinton and the Dems passed the AWB and Brady Bill. This occurrence made me permanently paranoid about gun controllers but I would not hesitate to say that despite growing up in the south and being around guns if my uncles had of taken me hunting when I asked them to, I would be as complacent, nonchalant and un-interested in the gun debate as the rest of the majority of the American people are. As things go now, the gun control debate is my number 1 priority when I vote.

Taxes, immigration, global warming and other issues are beyond my personal control but holding onto my guns is definitely an issue where I can exert a large degree of control over.

quazi
June 11, 2006, 09:40 AM
I've never understood where this whole "confusing fantasy with reality" idea came from. Of course I can only speak from personal experience, but I didn't confuse fantasy with reality as a child. I do not believe that the other kids I played war and violent videogames with did either. I think that the idea is probably something adults have just convinced themselves of.

I can understand mentally ill kids confusing fantasy and reality, but hell, plenty of mentally unstable adults do that to.

Nortonics
June 11, 2006, 09:52 AM
Zzzzzzzzzz...

Oh, sorry. Fell asleep about half way through that article...

gopguy
June 11, 2006, 11:25 AM
Yeah all the kids that grew up playing with toy guns from the founding of the country to present day have turned out so bad......I despise this ninny state thinking......:banghead:

TooTaxed
June 11, 2006, 11:40 AM
I think the problem rests with overly neurotic grown-ups rather than the children.

The children appear to be normal. On the other hand, the overly neurotic growups seem to be creating problems that have not previously...and do not actually...exist.:scrutiny:

antsi
June 11, 2006, 11:59 AM
-------quote---------
I think the problem rests with overly neurotic grown-ups rather than the children.

The children appear to be normal.
----------------------

Ding! Ding! Ding! And we have a winner!

Agree 100%

Erebus
June 11, 2006, 02:05 PM
Another issue with the "My kid will never see a gun" croud is that if/when the child does come in contact with one outside adult control they have not been taught how to properly handle it or respect what it can do.

There was a case about 10 years ago in the city I live in where the police apprehended a suspect and couldn't locate his loaded gun after a long chase. He ditched it somewhere and they couldn't find it. A day or two later it was found by a bunch of kids right by their bus stop. Luckily no one was hurt. Mommy and Daddy weren't there to tell Johnny not to touch it though.

zeke1312
June 11, 2006, 02:39 PM
I read about half of the article and thought to myself, move on, the touchy feely liberal crap is in motion. In the early 50s, Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers,etc., and all western movies (and they were popular then), had guns blazing about half the time in each show/movie. Hell, even Flash Gorden was zapping someone. Cowboys and indians falling off their horses all the time after being shot.

So don't give me this BS. Now I do agree that some of the video games available are over the top.

My point is, there probably was more bang bang stuff going then and would have the touchy feely group of today pee'n in their pants.

sterling180
June 11, 2006, 03:01 PM
When I was between the ages of 5 and 7,I played with various cap-guns,including a replica of a peacemaker,a 1911A1 and a winchester 1894 rifle.

I haven't turned out bad-so why is there a level of intolerance,towards a normal childs play activity?

What are they going to do next,ban Super-Soaker water-guns,because they are fairly high-powered and have a pump-action mechanism?

Ohh,pump-action water-rifles= pump-action shotguns.

I think that that article sounds like the daft ideas,that are thought up-in The Peoples Republic of The UK.

mordechaianiliewicz
June 11, 2006, 03:10 PM
I'm a yungin' compared to quite a few of you here. I'm only 24. I grew up with a father that tried his best to keep me from playing like I had toy guns. I of course made up toy guns, or played with friends or family's.

My mother had the more reasonable approach, and when I was about 7 asked me if I knew the difference between a real gun and a toy gun, and I said something like "Well of course, mom."

She asked me if I'd like to see a real gun, and know about real guns. To "cure" my interest, (and hopefully get me to fixate on something else) she had her brother in law, my uncle show me his collection. It removed the mystery of the real thing, but didn't have the desired effect.

I knew I'd have to wait until I was good ammount older to own a gun, but I was hooked after I saw my uncle's guns at 7. :D

Mr.V.
June 12, 2006, 06:51 AM
"What if the guns you made shot glue?"
then those would be some pretty sucky guns.

cuchulainn
June 12, 2006, 09:55 AM
I have two boys who make everything, including their sandwiches, into guns.This is straight from one of Rosanne Barr's late-1980s standup routines (before her sitcom) -- I wonder if this person might be playing a little loose with the truth for effect's sake. Maybe. Maybe not. I suppose it's possible that this kid coincidentally immitated a standup routine from 17-ish years ago.

Just the other day, my daughter asked me, "Who's on first?" I told her, "I'm a frayed knot."

AJ Dual
June 12, 2006, 05:35 PM
There is one single disturbing trend in these "toy gun" articles that have been popping up since the 90's. It's the meme that gun/war/cops&robbers play is "bad". And that it's treated as an assumption by almost all sides. (Assuming even more than one side is presented.)

The fact that this article points out kids (boys mostly) will fashion guns and swords out of most anything they can find, and that toy weapons are found in the archeological records all the way into pre-history makes this article almost a breath of fresh air in comparison to what's come before…

Frankly, by denying such play, you're only going to make the problem worse. Instead of learning to channel aggressive instincts in constructive ways, such as fighting for good, freedom, or to protect the weak and victimized, you merely send the message to young boys that you consider a core part of their being as "wrong".

Yeppers, Soccer-Mommy, you've just told Jr. you wish he were something other than a stereotypical boy. You can dismiss it as hyperbole, but Monkeyleg's comments on castration aren't too far off the mark, psychologically speaking. By characterizing guns and war-play as "perverse" you are sending the message to your children that you think their masculinity is "perverse" too.

Taking away toy guns and swords from little boys over fears of "violence" is like taking away dolls from little girls over fears of "teen pregnancy"...

As a side issue, I think another one of the underlying assumptions of the idea that war/gun play with boys is "bad", is actually an egalitarian instinct on the part of the liberals and the mainstream mass media. To do otherwise might mean they'd have to acknowledge there is something truly "different" between the feral existence of so many in the inner city, vs. the "Americana" of the suburbs and countryside.

It helps them pretend that there's no difference between a suburban upbringing in a two-parent home, and being raised on welfare in the inner city, when all your siblings have different fathers. That way, the liberal establishment can pretend that Johnny from "Brookfield" has just as much chance of becoming a trigger-happy gang banger as Tyrone from whatever part of town your city's "Martin Luther King Dr." runs through.

Pretending that both have an equal chance winding up as hardened criminals because they played "G.I. Joe" as children is a big part of denying that the "Great Society" the very same liberals helped create isn't to blame for oh so much of the actual problem...

Guns_and_Labs
June 12, 2006, 06:28 PM
Our TV is rarely on, and never on cartoons, so my boys should be free from such bad influences. But guess what -- the six year old still goes around the house shooting or stabbing, with imaginary or play weapons, everything except his mother (Dad's ok, because he can shoot back).

And the fifteen year old seems to have survived the transition to real guns -- we leave for a competitive shoot in a week, and I'm concerned that he's going to win the case of beer traditionally given to the high score for the weekend -- it's going to look bad if he beats me, wins the beer, but then I confiscate it due to his youth and drink it myself.

mbs357
June 12, 2006, 06:36 PM
Guns&Labs:
Serves him right for winning.
And uh, and yea!

Yakko
June 12, 2006, 07:16 PM
When I grew up:
They weren't afraid of kids playing "gun games" at school, or anywhere else. They didn't have "zero tolerance". Nor did they have school shootings.

This status quo that was in effect during my childhood also worked for my parents', grandparents' and great-grandparents' childhoods as well.

Now we have:
Adults afraid of kids playing "gun games" at school, and at home. They now have "zero tolerance". Children's play is restricted by controlling fearmongers, what are the results? School shootings? :eek:

Kids are kids, they don't change. What changes is the society they grow up in.

jazurell
June 12, 2006, 07:55 PM
Oh, heck, when I grew up we played cowboys and Indians....later on we became Boy Scouts and earned the Marksmanship Merit Badge...after we took the safety course. Then the horrors set in....High School. We actually carried our guns to school and stored them in our lockers. We were on the rifle team, which happened to be a varsity sport. And, for those that were not able to buy their own guns, the school owned 7 which we shared. How did we ever turn out as non-killers is beyond me....and the school owning 7 rifles of their own......oh my, how the world has changed.

'Card
June 12, 2006, 08:25 PM
I actually felt like the article made a decent point about allowing kids to create their own guns out of cardboard tubes, LEGOs, whatever - instead of buying them replicas or guns from a TV show or something. If you buy a kid a toy gun, he's got to shoot somebody or play with another toy. Give him a box of LEGOs and he can shoot somebody, conquer the galaxy, defeat evil and rescue appreciative damsels in distress, then shoot somebody else - all in a single afternoon.

Other than taking the hand-wringing Mom seriously, the only major flaw I saw in there was the simple acceptance at face value of the blatantly stupid comments by the so-called expert on gender programming by the media. Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that girls and boys are different, no matter what kind of programming the media gives them. Pretending to take a washed-up feminist seriously in this day and age just makes you look silly.

Levin, however, believes it is much more than genes. "Whatever influence genetics and biological predispositions play, the society is doing so much to escalate and magnify the differences in gender that we can't even answer that question," Levin says.
Translation: "I reject your reality, and substitute my own."
*snork*

Jeff
June 12, 2006, 09:04 PM
Taking away toy guns and swords from little boys over fears of "violence" is like taking away dolls from little girls over fears of "teen pregnancy"...


Ooh, that was good.

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