Mama Says: Bang-Bang Boys and Guns

cow boy gun

My 5 yr. old son is what many describe as a “boy’s boy”, and I am learning what that means. Last year he got some Nerf guns. And it is remarkably fun to have battles with him in the house etc. So here is where it starts getting tricky: We have recently moved to a rural location and as opposed to our city house, we have a TON more bugs. So next logical step for my son – kill the bugs by shooting them with his Nerf gun. Seems innocent enough – and him walking around as a bug assassin provides endless hours of entertainment.
That said, he now has moved to saying things like: “mom, I’m going to kill your toast” and even walking up to kids and saying – if you don’t play with me the way I want – I’m going to shoot you. Gah! We DO realize that his only exposure to guns is his Nerf guns so it’s not like he’s referring to a “real” gun. But as much as we try to help him differentiate between killing bugs vs. toast vs. kids who won’t play with you he doesn’t seem to get it. Add to that the horror on parents’ faces when they hear that A) he plays with guns and B) he just offered to shoot their child. In light of the awful news stories/situations that parents/kids have suffered recently – I totally get why people are so sensitive and easily upset. I am too! I just don’t really know how to deal with the situation without just “banning” guns in the house which I don’t really agree with and my son would be devastated. Any advice would be great!

Gun play has a whole new meaning these days than when my boys were growing up.
The horror of the Sandy Hook killings have put boys and guns on the cultural map with a terrifying point. When I refused to give our young boys toy guns of any type, they made them out of sticks and bananas, they chewed their peanut butter sandwiches into guns and pointed them at each other.

We didn’t watch TV, I monitored the shows they did watch, but they seemed genetically wired to bang-bang. I never did give them guns (well, squirt guns were allowed), but I tolerated their play with sideways permission (it seemed weird to say “…we don’t point peanut butter sandwiches at people…”). I took comfort in the fact that no study (even currently) has linked pretend gun play with future violent behavior.  Even further, some psychologists believe that gun play is a way for children to wrestle with the forces of good and evil, that it allows them to role play and integrate complex values.

Anything we fiercely ban as parents seems to have a mystical hold on children, be that candy, television, or weapons, but there are ways to allow them and have a measure of control. It begins with a conversation of why we don’t like what candy, TV, or weapons do to their bodies and minds. Children are never too young to begin the conversation.

Begin with why we don’t point guns at people, why bugs and toast are different (inert things versus living things) Tell him a story about a boy his age whose brother played with a gun and he accidentally shot and paralyzed his brother; he was never able to walk, or who was killed (unfortunately both true, both happening daily in our nation), the odds are you know someone who was injured or killed by guns, tell that story. Yes, it is a dark and scary lesson (or it may be brushed off by your son), but parents should address a cavalier attitude toward even Nerf guns. I am not saying to ban the Nerf gun, I am saying inform your child of why guns are scary to people, especially adults. How some parents won’t want him to play with their kids because playing with even toy guns can worry them about safety and it is a Mom and Dad’s job to keep their children safe.

Never underestimate how much even very young children can understand. If he is old enough to point a gun at a person, he is old enough to know what that can culturally mean. More importantly, it is our job as parents to explain the world to our children: how to deal with a bully, why we don’t litter, the need for seat belts and helmets, how words can hurt, how guns can scare. With our stories and guidance we are helping to shape the inner lives they will take out into the world with all its tragedy and beauty, including guns.

Most of all, take comfort in the fact that in all likelihood, this too is a stage that most boys pass out of that has as much to do with curiosity and imagination as anything else.

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