Boys, Guns, Violence, and Self-Definition?

Like the other mothers writing here, gun play usually depresses me.  I understand the needs for kids to work through their fears and master their worlds, and not all violent play gets me down.  But in my mind, the “pow wow, you’re dead”, much like the competitive parallel of “I’m going to win and you’re going to lose” doesn’t really reflect these needs.  It often seems like mimickry of something, and the something is not especially nuanced or valuable.

I have developed a certain sensitivity to all things ugly, which I wrote about to some degree here.  Having spent the last nine months alternately elated, sick, sore, and worried while trying to bring a baby to life does not take the edge off this vulnerability.  At present, I am quite unabashedly unimpressed by our society’s quick sells of power to boys through violence, just as I am of its parallel pitches or power to girls through exploiting their sexuality, as noted by one of our commenters this week.

At present, gun play is not a big issue in our lives.  My kids are relatively young; I don’t know how these issues will pan out when they are older.  For now, we don’t have any overtly violent toys around.  Actually, and for the record, I’m the mother on the street who tries to have mostly toys made of natural materials and which are open-ended.  The plastic guns that my sister once presented to the boys quickly disappeared.  We’ve also received many gifts and hand-me-downs (Power Rangers, Star Wars paraphrenalia, superhero stuff) that aren’t exclusively defined by violence, but I’ve re-directed these too for a range of reasons, including a desire to avoid the slippery slope phenomenon.

Water “squirt” toys, I’ve allowed.  I can’t prevent a cardboard tube from becoming a spear and I won’t try to, but I’m more comfortable with that.  If the play seems to come from within rather than without, I feel better.

I suspect that we have fewer issues with weapon play partly because we don’t watch TV and thus avoid commercials.  We have a handful of carefully screened DVDs that get an occasional viewing.  I’m somewhat less fussy when we go out, partly because I don’t want to be a social pariah and partly because I don’t want the children to live in a bubble.  But deciding what they have access to in terms of toys and imagery at home, I see as a fairly basic mothering task, along the same lines of determining what to encourage and discourage in their worlds in terms of eating, sleeping, and other behaviours.

There’s no perfection here, but it’s good enough.  My boys fight and hit each other, but at the least it’s their own brand of conflict, not something lifted from Disney or Pixar.  My older son has Spiderman pyjamas, even if he doesn’t exactly know who he is.  When he’s tired, my husband watches movies (that might as well be) called Shootdown Massacres III (I’m hardly free of escapist vices, but my husband’s conveniently fit here because we’re talking about guns).  I can’t complain that he’s more violent as a consequence, because he isn’t.  But I’ve noticed that when he’s more on his game, he’ll watch more engaging films, or read, or play guitar, or do something active.

I guess that’s what I hope for for my own kids, that they’ll be able to make better choices for themselves if the narrow societal notions of male power and violence have less of a hold on them, if they’re less accustomed to the messages that boys are fed early in and throughout their childhood.  Whatever violence remains in the act of growing up and getting sorted and finding one’s place, I hope the boys will, at least, be able to call their own.