Let the boys play

iStock_000005789027_ExtraSmallI remember the first time my son made a gun out of Legos. I don’t recall his exact age but I do know we were still in the land of Caillou, Diego, and Dora. We didn’t even own any play guns and at that time, I had no interest in fostering that sort of play.

But it happened. As this kind of play often does, particularly among boys.

They play cops and robbers.

They make pretend guns out of sticks, Legos, their hands…you name it.

And it’s not bad. It’s not dangerous.

It’s play. Full of the creative imagination that only 4, 5, and 6 year olds can beautifully create.

Yes I said beautiful.

It used to make me uncomfortable too. The pretend gun play. Because real guns are dangerous. They can kill and should be handled with great care and responsibility.

But we are talking about play and imagination here. Not real guns.

When I first saw my son running around with his friends pretending to shoot each other and catching the “bad guys”….I winced.

Why must they engage in this type of play?

Because they’re kids. Boys. They’re learning about right and wrong and perhaps a little about life and death.

Sure I may have interjected later that day with a talk about how dangerous real guns are and how they can kill people and how we would never want to play with or shoot a gun at somebody else. I felt a little ridiculous lecturing my 5 year old on such things. But I felt compelled as a parent to temper that sort of play with reality.

For better or for worse I’m still not sure.

I think it’s hard for us adults to see the innocence in that sort of play. We watch the news. We see the devastation guns can do.

But when it comes to 4-8 year old boys…we cannot forget…this type of play is natural and innocent. And it’s a stage. They won’t forever be running around pretending to shoot each other. They move on, unscathed, if we don’t freak out about it.

So when I read stories like this and this…it makes me sad.

For goodness sake…say NO to violent video games and violent movies. Aim to keep those out of your child’s life. Realize that for the most part, pretend gun play is a developmental stage…and it’s pretend. Made up. Sure, temper it if you must and redirect when that sort of play is not appropriate at the time.

But also remember that most of these children who are playing are quite oblivious (and rightly so) to the recent horrible acts of real violence in our country. When we automatically shut down that sort of play, we are essentially projecting our fears upon them. We envision our sweet little boys as future criminals…for making a gun out of Legos.

When it comes to our boys and pretend gun play, we really do need to calm down and call on our common sense and perspective.

After all, amid the occasional pretend gun play, our boys are construction workers digging a hole the size of your backyard, super heroes saving the day, firemen coming to the rescue with their entourage of 15 emergency vehicles, or explorers digging for worms/gold/snakes/you name it.

Perspective indeed.

So for goodness sake….let the boys play.

Have you ever worried about pretend gun play and your child? What are your thoughts?

More reading about boys and gun play:

Boys and Guns: Okay to play?

Toy guns: Do they lead to real life violence?

What’s the deal with boys and guns?


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5 Responses to Let the boys play
  1. Craig Canapari MD
    January 30, 2013 | 12:35 pm

    No jail could hold my 5 year old. He can make a gun out of everything. It does feel a bit weird sometimes but something happened about a year ago. There were some guys at a town festival dressed as Minutemen (we live in Massachusetts and this happens ALL THE TIME.) forging musket bullets on a tiny forge. My son saw the muskets and ran behind me, pulling me away. “Daddy,” he said, “Those men have guns.” It reassured me that he has a good handle on make believe vs. reality in this area.

  2. Amy Childers
    January 30, 2013 | 1:31 pm

    I felt compelled to have “that conversation” with my then six year old son, when I saw him engaging in large amounts of pretend gun play. After all, I don’t want to be a neglectful parent, now, do I? So, I addressed the issue. And his response? “Duh, MOM, those guns are PRETEND. They’re not REAL. I would never shoot a REAL gun”. He clearly knew the difference. End of problem.

  3. Michelle
    January 30, 2013 | 5:47 pm

    Thank you for the piece and your candid thoughts on a very difficult and controversial topic. I, however, feel differently about the bottom line. I also have a boy and he never went through a stage of creating guns and whenever he came across a toy gun of some sort, my husband and I (from day one) have always explained to him that guns are for shooting ‘things’ not people.

    My husband has been a competitive shooter and hunter and we own firearms and store them safely in our home. Despite our support for owning guns, it has never seemed okay to encourage, or to look the other way, when it came to playing with guns. I absolutely agree that children learn and process much about good vs. bad through their play (and much more), but I think it sets a bit of a precedent to be ‘okay’ with simulated aggression with weapons, particularly when under the age of six.

    I am very conservative with what my kids were exposed to in their first five years, and as a result, the idea of shooting his sister or friends never took shape for my son. Now that he is older and has been exposed to this behavior and concept, we’ve talked more about it and allowed him to make his choices. He still chooses to set up targets rather than shoot his sister.

    While it sounds like your son and the other commenter’s son have the right idea about it, I worry about announcing that it’s okay and that, “they’re just being boys”, as some parents won’t be as mindful as you and he other commenter were with following up with the needed guidance.

  4. Katherine
    January 31, 2013 | 9:40 am

    We never let our boys watch any even slightly violent movies, or play any games with guns in them. So it surprised me when my boys started playing with pretend guns. Like yours, they made guns from Legos, blocks, sticks, their hands. I felt the same way: disturbed, upset, unsettled. We’ve had the same talk about real guns and my boys understand. So the same boys that are pretending to shoot imaginary bad guys in the backyard are the same ones that won’t hurt a bug or spider. I agree: just let the boys play.

  5. Annie Stein, RN
    February 2, 2013 | 9:09 am

    My 3 year old has recently come home from daycare with pretend gun play (he only goes once a week, but still picks up interesting ideas). We don’t watch anything violent, don’t even have a video game system in our house, and most definitely do not own our own gun. I am pretty sure he doesn’t understand what it means to shoot guns- he just likes saying bang bang and running around. I am also pretty sure he doesn’t understand my “shooting guns are bad” speech. My mom’s solution was that he can only shoot glitter or rainbows- he chooses glitter. I was horrified at first, then figured, what’s the big deal if he is only shooting glitter?