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Johnny's Got A Shun
Law prof Jonathan Turley writes in The Washington Post of parents who drag their kids away from the Turley children -- because the Turley children are allowed to play with toy guns:

My wife and I are hardly poster parents for the National Rifle Association. We are social liberals who fret over every detail and danger of child rearing. We do not let our kids watch violent TV shows and do not tolerate rough play. Like most of our friends, we tried early on to avoid any gender stereotypes in our selection of games and toys. However, our effort to avoid guns and swords and other similar toys became a Sisyphean battle. Once, in a fit of exasperation, my wife gathered up all of the swords that the boys had acquired as gifts and threw them into the trash. When she returned to the house, she found that the boys had commandeered the celery from the refrigerator to finish their epic battle. Forced to choose between balanced diets and balanced play, my wife returned the swords with strict guidelines about where and when pirate fights, ninja attacks and Jedi rescues could occur.

When I began to research this issue, I found a library of academic studies with such engaging titles as "Longitudinal Stability of Personality Traits: A Multitrait-Multimethod-Multioccasion Analysis." The thrust was that gender differences do exist in the toys and games that boys and girls tend to choose. The anecdotal evidence in my neighborhood (with more than 60 young kids in a four-block radius) was even clearer: Parents of boys reported endless variations on the celery swords. There seems to be something "hard-wired" with the XY chromosome that leads boys to glance at a small moss-covered branch and immediately see an air-cooled, camouflaged, fully automatic 50-caliber Browning rifle with attachable bayonet.

Many parents can relate to Holley and Warren Lutz, who thought that after their daughter Seeley, they could raise her little brother, Carver, in a weapon-free house. Holley realized her error when she gave 10-month-old Carver a Barbie doll and truck one day. The little boy examined both and then proceeded to run Barbie over repeatedly with the truck. By 2, he was bending his sister's Barbies into L-shapes and using them as guns.

One of my neighbors, Tracy Miller, a child psychologist and mother of three girls and a boy, found that her son instinctively gravitated toward improvised weaponry from an early age, while her girls, who are temperamentally more assertive, never showed the slightest interest. Miller resolved that it was better to allow this type of channeling of aggression, while keeping tabs on how it manifested itself in her son's games.

Her view is supported by a recent flurry of studies looking at boys and their development. Michael Thompson, a psychologist and coauthor of "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys," writes that parents often overreact when confronted with toy guns and other games: "Play is play. Violence is violence." The key is making sure that kids distinguish between the two in their play.

Oh, that parenting thing again. Wouldn't it be a nice thing if parents showed their kids by example, that it's a really good idea to bring rational thought into choice-making, instead of just flying into a tantrum?

Posted by aalkon at April 5, 2007 9:13 AM


Hi, Jody! Over here!

Posted by: Crid at April 5, 2007 7:35 AM

Oh - Ho! Ho! Ho! Crid.

[big smile, actually...]

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 5, 2007 7:42 AM

Pretending that violence can be rationalized - either "away" or "justified" - just convinces me more tha people are phobic about thinking. How will anyone learn about mercy if they don't figure out in rough play what it feels like to lose? How will Johnny and Keisha figure out that guns are not mythological instruments of Godlike Power if they never see one - except in the hands of some thug?

Posted by: Radwaste at April 5, 2007 8:19 AM

Fuck, even Gandhi probably played with toy guns as a kid. I can't believe this is still an issue. Believe it or not, I've known several women schooled in modern American feminism over the years who've been able to accept the fact that their male children naturally gravitate toward toy guns. A former classmate of mine who's actually garnered some public attention for her work as a "feminist filmmaker" once blithely told me that her 2-year-old son would turn anything -- sticks, straws, spoons -- into imaginary guns. She simply accepted it as something that boys generally like to do, and continued on with her obligations to raise a civil, intelligent young man.


Posted by: Lena at April 5, 2007 8:21 AM

I read a study (maybe by Judith Langlois) about how children are given Barbies and transportation items and the girls gravitate to the Barbies and the boys go for the trucks -- I'm sure, to their P.C. parents' dismay.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 5, 2007 8:24 AM

Radwaste, you won the Wise Blog Comment of the Day Award with this one:

"How will anyone learn about mercy if they don't figure out in rough play what it feels like to lose?"

Posted by: Lena at April 5, 2007 8:25 AM

I had the displeasure of living in a socially liberal town before I eventually gave up and embraced my inner shopper and moved away. Unfortunately I landed in a quasi-bible belt, where not only did the boys shoot real guns, they also drove dirt bikes through my property, followed by the bible toting mommy, who among other things, called me a "Darwin."

Raising kids isn't a tidy package from Tiffany's. Kids will do any one of the following (often multi-tasking and doing three or more): spit, hit, yell, pull, shove, kick, punch, gouge, swear, cheat, lie, steal, blow boogers in hair, and yes... chew crackers into the shape of a gun.

I think this paragraph should accompany all parents out of the hospital when they leave with their precious bundle.

Posted by: kanani at April 5, 2007 8:32 AM

Radwaste, you're on to something. I was five or six the first time I shot a real gun with my grandparents (very closely supervised, of course, after a stern lesson in the basics of gun safety - treat guns as always being loaded, never point at anything you don't intend to shoot, etc.). The hysterical parents who shunned this family for letting their children have toy guns probably would have reported mine for child abuse. Shockingly, neither I nor my brothers grew up to be psychopaths as a result of our early experiences with guns. Thought we're all pretty capable marksmen and very careful handlers of guns. I think the hysterics have it exactly backwards - people who are experienced with guns tend to be the least cavalier in how they handle guns.

Posted by: justin case at April 5, 2007 8:38 AM

I shot a rifle when I was 8 or 9 years old, rabbit hunting with my uncle in Ireland on a summer vacation. I remember being quite surprised about the force of the gun against my body immediately after pulling the trigger. My preference for toy guns, which are lot more light and flexible, probably increased after that experience.

Posted by: Lena at April 5, 2007 8:52 AM

> Radwaste, you won the Wise Blog
> Comment of the Day

Word. Props to the champ.

> accompany all parents out
> of the hospital

No, Kanani! This is all because of HOW KIDS ARE RAISED! If women were just more aggressive about being passive, boys would be more like girls! Don't you understand? Women who let their children mold food into guns are just tools...

Tools in the hand of the MAN! There's a well-defined debate! Also, Wilma and Pebbles!

(Hi, Jody!)

Posted by: Crid at April 5, 2007 9:09 AM

"Oh Fre-ed!"

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 5, 2007 9:48 AM

Can you feel the love?

Posted by: Lena at April 5, 2007 10:17 AM

Every time I swing at her, she ducks, which is technically cheating.

Remember that James Garner comedy about the new sheriff in town? "He lies to me about my gun being unloaded!"

Posted by: Crid at April 5, 2007 10:26 AM

A lot of parents with seem to raise kids that can't think, have been so sheltered they can't deal with life, show no ethics, expect to be entertained, and feel entitled to everything. It's crap.

I grew up with a dad who had guns. We'd go out back and shoot targets. That was it. He made it clear what would happen to us if we used them irresponsibly. We believed him. We also grew up around dangerous tools (welders and such) and chemicals. I d idn't die, and I know how to use those things responsibly without hurting anyone. Useful skills.

I make mad-science videos (on my link), and do demos for elementary school kids (less dangerous than what's in my vids). Some people come back with "Aren't you worried that kids will try this and hurt themselves?? Shame on you!" Whiny little buggers. One: I give plenty of warnings for most of them...Two: I have a video that demonstrates some of the dangers rather clearly. Lastly: they have nothing to worry about if their parents actually bother to PARENT.

Posted by: Jamie at April 5, 2007 11:02 AM

Yes, it's much healthier for children to become paranoid, indignant little snotrags than it is for them to play with plastic and foam toys.

This anti-violence obsession has got to stop. All this hand-wringing is making the situation worse. The problem is that these anti-bullying and anti-weapon zealots don't realize that these are not the only forms of aggression. Kids subjected to this mindset just find non-violent ways to be vicious to each other. Furthermore, they learn they can be as mean to the other kids as they want, as long as they don't actually hit them.

Then when precious little Justin teases Kenny in front of his friends about having a dead parent for the 800th day in a row, and Kenny gives Justin a long-overdue punch in the mouth, Kenny's off to the School for Bad Kids and Justin's treated to a level of sympathy and counseling appropriate for war orphans. And that's if they settle out-of-court.

Parents need to stay out of these things sometimes. When I was a kid, the threat of a scrap was usually enough to keep you from being too much of a dick to another kid. And I didn't exactly grow up in a rough neighborhood. I got punched in the face a couple times. For the most part, I deserved it.

These kids aren't getting the life lessons you get when you have to answer to your peers. They're dependent on top-down authority for everything, because their overwrought yuppie parents can't tell the difference between Eric Harris/Dylan Klebold and two pre-schoolers squabbling over the teeter-totter.

Which explains the "zero tolerance" mentality people like to have. Zero tolerance means "we're too stupid to judge the severity of anything, so we'll just treat everything the same and hope it all goes away." So aggressive kids become self-entitled sociopaths, and good kids get suspended when some future TSA screener finds a splintery toothpick in their bag.

God, I hate these fucking people.

Posted by: Gary S. at April 5, 2007 3:13 PM

All of you might enjoy the book _Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence_ (click on my name to go to the page). It's written by someone with a degree in psychology who's also written for comics et al. Basically, the thesis is that children learn to make sense of their world through make-believe violence, monsters, bloodshed, etc., and that children growing up in reasonably functional households (i.e. not being raised by abusive drug dealers and similar types) know the difference between real and make-believe violence quite well. It also points out that, while watching violent TV may make kids more rowdy, having kids play quietly is not necessarily the best thing for their development. (No, he's not suggesting kids should be allowed to act like maniacs inside restaurants or anything similar.) Anyway, good book, and one that I've recommended to people. Very good resource if you have friends who are getting guilt trips for letting their children play with "violent" toys.

Posted by: marion at April 5, 2007 3:38 PM

Exactly, Marion. You don't socialize children by sheltering them -- it's an utterly idiotic notion.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 5, 2007 4:03 PM

Read some fairy tales in their original form sometime (not the sanitized Disney versions). Incredibly violent.

Posted by: deja pseu at April 5, 2007 5:02 PM

"You don't socialize children by sheltering them"

That brings back a memory from the late 1980s. My co-worker Michael, who had AIDS, asked me about my friend Ray, who also had AIDS. I maybe got 3 or 4 words into a reply before I started crying, and Michael went into this incredible monologue about how the impulse to shelter our friends from the pain of life is like bad parenting. He talked about how some parents try to limit their children's exposure to the real world in order to protect them from harm, but end up actually causing more harm by limiting their children's opportunities for growth. I know it sounds very new-age-y and corny, but it helped calm me down at the time. (I spent more time in my 20s attending funerals than going on dates.)

I think there's something interesting in Michael's analogy. One of the reasons why I sometimes prefer psychotherapy over advice from friends is that I think people have an inclination to protect their friends from painful but important realizations such as "My significant other is a narcisstic beast who doesn't give a fuck about me. I need to leave him/her." Unlike an overprotective but well-meaning friend (or bad parent), a good therapist will help you step out of denial and get to that point without killing yourself along the way.

Oh, my. This blog comment got a little out of hand. Well, at least this time I didn't start talking about licking prosthetic balls.

Posted by: Lena at April 5, 2007 10:09 PM

Actually, despite the lack of prosthesis, it was pretty instructive. And it's interesting, I get e-mails from readers complaining I'm too hard on people who write to me. My attitude: Somebody has to be!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 5, 2007 11:45 PM

EXACTLY. Even more so when "being hard on people" is just giving them a 100-proof shot of REALITY that they're not getting elsewhere.

Posted by: Jamie at April 6, 2007 7:39 AM

I prefer to melt reality down in a spoon and then inject it directly into the brachial artery.

Posted by: Lena at April 6, 2007 8:34 AM

You're all quite right about little boys improvising when they didn't have toy guns. My brothers and I found that baseball bats and toy bowling pins made wonderful rifles and grenades!

Unrelated note: back in third grade, I was given the speaking part of an Elf in our school Christmas program. My lines consisted of explaining how I was the Elf responsible for making toy guns, and how much boys and girls wanted the fruits of my labor. Or words to that effect. My folks thought the lines were funny in a creepy sort of way, but never complained about it as far as I know. Inconceivable now, I'm sure.

Posted by: Rob at April 6, 2007 11:56 AM

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