05 March 2007

Kids and toy guns

ZUI this piece from the Washington Post.
As the father of four kids younger than 9, I confess to being an overly obsessive and doting parent. I secretly follow my 8-year-old son, Benjamin, when he goes out on his bike, to make sure that he doesn't ride in the middle of the street. I hover inches over my 18-month-old daughter, Madie, at the playground to make sure that she doesn't eat sand. I am the very model of the risk-averse parent. Yet for some parents in my neighborhood, my kids and I are the risk to be avoided, even if it means removing their children when we show up at the park. The reason: toy guns.

I first noticed the "shunning" at the most unlikely of events. Each year on Labor Day, my Alexandria community has a "Wheel Day" parade in which hundreds of kids convert their bikes, scooters and wagons into different fantasy vehicles. Last year, we turned our red wagon into a replica Conestoga wagon with real sewn canvas over wooden ribs, wooden water barrels, quarter horse -- and, yes, plastic rifles. It was a big hit and the kids won first prize for their age group. The celebration, however, was short lived. As soon as one mother spotted the toy rifles inside the wagon, she pulled her screaming children out of the event, announcing that she would not "expose them" to guns.


While such "zero-tolerance" parents still seem to be a minority, this is a scene that seems to be repeating itself with increasing regularity. To these parents, my wife and I are "gun-tolerant" and therefore corruptors of children who should be avoided. Not only are such toys viewed as encouraging aggressive behavior and violent attitudes, they are also seen as reinforcing gender stereotypes, with boys playing with guns or swords and girls playing with dolls or cooking sets.

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.
Guy has some good points.

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