“Oooh, you died. I deaded you!” My three year old squeals.
“No, I am not died. I am going to kill you!” My four year old responds.
This banter has been going on for a few minutes and I cringe listening to such violent play.
“Boys! Enough! We don’t kill people. We are kind to people. We don’t use guns or play with guns! They are dangerous and hurt people.” I make a final plea.
I have got to hand it to my boys. They are definitely creative. There are no toy guns in our house. There are no photos of guns. None of their toy characters have guns. No one we know owns a gun. My husband and I don’t own guns and I am fairly certain that neither of us has never shot a gun.
Yet my boys can craft a gun out of anything. Toilet paper rolls. Broom handles. Pencils. Their fingers. The latter is difficult to take away from them.
I am not sure where this “kill ‘em” business came from but if I were to guess, school would be my bet and of course, pretty much most entertainment that is marketed towards boys has some sort of violent component to it.
It amazes me to see how much the boys have learned during the short school year. Jack, who is four, is using words like liquid to describe melting ice and explaining to me the root system of our tomato plants. Sam, who is three, clicks puzzles together faster than I can turn over the pieces and he counts aloud to twenty while staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come without skipping a beat of flubbing the sequence.
But they learn other things at school, things about guns, war, weapons and death. They are fascinated by the death of things – ants, flowers, batteries and yes, people too. Together with their friends they play light-sabers, soldiers, police and bad guys and even, thanks to our recent trip to the movies, cars.
I respect and appreciate their curiosity and imagination. But I also hate it. It’s absolutely impossible to shield them from everything.
To me, it’s more important to expose them to things and then explain to them how their father and I feel about it.
This is what I tell myself to quiet my desire to lock them in their rooms with a few stuffed animals and a plethora of mommy-approved books.
My mother-in-law who has raised many boys insists to me that it’s futile. As cliché and perhaps as offensive to some (click here and here) as it may seem: boys will be boys.
In an effort to understand this play, I turned to Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, for some insight as to why my boys are so obsessed with rough play. Here is what Dr. Sax has to say:
According to the section, Lessons From The Playground (pages 58-65):
- Boys fight more often than girls to, including being physically aggressive towards each other. He insists, and cite studies to back this up, that boys although they fight more frequently than girls often become better friends with their mates.
- It’s normal for boys to show a preference for violent fairy tales and games. It does NOT mean that they have a psychiatric disorder. (Phew!)
The section in the book that most rang true for me is Grand Theft Auto. Sax describes on page 71:
“. . . Don’t buy any video game that employs what I call a “moral inversion”- where good is bad and bad is good. Playing those games for hours on end can warp your mind. If your son absolutely has to play violent video games, choose something like SpyHunter instead. In SpyHunter you’re a James Bond sort of character, assigned missions such as escorting diplomats to embassies while various enemies try to shoot you and the diplomat you’re escorting . . . You lose points if you kill or injure a civilian. You can’t just fire your weapon blindly. You have to avoid the civilians (who become more numerous as you advance in the game) and make sure you’re right on top of the bad guy before you can fire.”
If I am to be truthful, and it’s hard to be, I would admit that I am also embarrassed by their boisterous play. My own ego and insecurities whisper to me other mothers are watching and judging, deeming my boys the “bad ones”.
But when I look around at other boys in the playground, I see the same play and hear the same words that fill-up my home coming from other little bodies.
“Boys, let’s just say “get ‘em”, okay?” I try again with my little warriors.
“Mommy, don’t worry. It’s not a gun, see?” My son holds his tiny hand out to me and opens his palm. He looks up at me with the sweetest eyes, and smiles his toothy grin and says, “It’s a sword.”
photo credit: http://www.openmarket.org
Definitely lots to think about! I worry more about my daughter than my boys. I think boys have been behaving this way forever. It is the sexualization of little girls in recent years that worries me. I just finished reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. This stuff is really scary!
Sarah – You bring up such a good point. I don’t even have a daughter but I am very concerned about the over-sexualized society that we live in. I was actually saying the other day what a hard time to be a girl – it’s almost like our media/society doesn’t give kids a chance to be kids, especially little girls. It’s sad, really.
I had no guns either as a kid… I resorted to using Lego rather than broom handles and toilet rolls…