So I’m not surprised that Max plays guns. I would almost expect it, given our lifestyle. It’s not all the time, mind you – only on occasion, when he’s playing. Mostly, he has finger gun “blasters” - like he sees in Star Wars. He pretends to be Han Solo and rescues his toys from the Storm Troopers. I allow it; first of all, it’s just damned cute, and secondly, I have no problem whatsoever with him desiring to be a hero figure. Role playing is a healthy activity and I think it helps build character and moral fiber. And, if he’s ever emulating his daddy (anyone remember playing cops and robbers as a kid?), I encourage it even more.
So…. what to do, what to do, when Max’s teachers say he’s pointing finger guns at other kids in class and “shooting them?”
My first reaction – was he being disruptive? Was he goofing off when he should have been completing his school work? Was he pretending his friends were storm troopers and distracting them from their school work? For me, the issue should have been about whether Max was following schedule and/or instructions (play time vs. school work time).
Ah, but I know better. That’s not the problem they’re having with him.
I bite my tongue as they explain to me, in seemingly the most condescending way possible, that “in today’s world, using finger guns is inappropriate child behavior.” Essentially, it feels as though they are demonizing him - trying to categorically put him up there on the shelf with Lanza. “He can’t shoot his friends. Even if it’s pretend. He shouldn't even be making the gun with his hands. It’s not okay.” They further warn me that this kind of behavior will get him tossed out of Kindergarten in the fall. “So it’s best to try and curb his behavior now.”
At this, I’m incredulous. Throw him out of school?! For finger guns? I know it's not okay to shoot at friends (which we certainly will be discussing with him), but simply forming the gun with his hand is now an offence, too?! Surely my son isn’t the only child to make finger guns?! In response, they decline to tell me whether other kids do it – they only say he is the worst offender of the class.
Then, I’m embarrassed – tortured. I feel certain that’s what they wanted. It seems like standard operating procedure for them…. Reprimand the child, extend the failure to the parents.
At first, I let them get away with it. I even agreed that Max needed some reform; we have goals to work on. But then, as I pictured myself taking away Max’s Nerf gun, and telling him that finger guns were bad, and that he was no longer allowed to point his finger or “shoot” at anything, I saw a future for him flash before me…
and it just wasn’t right.
The more we take something away, the more he wants it. By denying him, we’re actually reinforcing the desire for the taboo. I know my kid well enough to understand this and avoid it if possible.
We already use every precaution in our home to keep our weapons secured from the kids, and we are also adamant about educating them that guns are not toys. But we must also accept that our children are going to have a natural curiosity about guns, and Mike and I want to cultivate a healthy, well-educated environment for that curiosity to grow – eventually building a bridge into responsible gun ownership when they reach the right age.
Making guns forbidden or unmentionable is not going to do this. Most parents know that if you try to hide something from kids, they want it even more (take alcohol as an example). Plus, in that scenario, there is a missed opportunity to properly and positively educate your child. Secondly, what message are we sending about all the heroes – Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Texas Rangers, Wild West Cowboys, the Armed Forces, Law Enforcement Officers, and even the Founding Fathers – if the guns they use are bad? If these heros aren't okay, which ones are? Firefighters? Wait, they have axes... and you know what happened when Lizzie Borden got that idea. And this brings up the third point: guns aren't bad. But people and their choices can be. Children need to understand the power of choices - not that inanimate objects are inherently evil.
And finally, for God’s sake: Boys. Will. Be. Boys.
So, as I sat there, listening to Max's teacher tic off all the negative things she had to say about him, I screwed up my courage for confrontation…
I suggest that completely breaking Max of playing guns is unrealistic, given his home environment – citing my husband’s employment as exhibit A. I further argue that trying to take it away at this point is only going to feed his desire to do it. Plus, the finger gun shouldn’t be the issue – goofing off during study time is. Perhaps we should try the methodology of ignoring the behavior? If we don’t make it a big deal, he may not be incensed to test the limits. “Perhaps we can work on telling him not to be fooling around during academic time periods”.
Well, that flew like a brick. They countered, saying, “Gun stuff is not allowed at anytime. Besides that, Police officers use guns to protect us; they are not for shooting ‘our friends’” (which is how we are obliged to refer to Max’s classmates).
Ugh. I can see that my argument is wasted on them. Saying, “He’s 4. He’s playing. He’s not really shooting them” would be a waste of breath. Instead, I end the conversation, saying “I’ll talk to him.” I can see the topic is too sensitive. PC wins again.
But – is it PC, or have we become the victims of overreaction?
Obviously, there’s a heightened sensitivity in the general public about kids, guns, and schools right now, thanks to Sandy Hook and other school tragedies. And I am in no way trying to trivialize those events.... but the pendulum must stop somewhere.
We can’t take away heroes. We can’t take away the 2nd Amendment. We can’t disallow children to be children.
We’d only create more monsters.