It’s a debate that has raged on for some time. Would giving a toy gun to a child promote aggression? Should the sale of toy weapons be stopped? Here’s our take on the subject
By Sahana Charan
In January this year, an 18-year-old student gunned down his principal at a school in Gurgaon. The teenager wanted to seek revenge after she insulted him in front of his classmates.
A few years ago, a 15-year-old child died when he accidentally shot himself while playing with his father’s gun.
As shootings and gun-violence make headlines every other day, some parents want to move away from buying toy guns for their children. India has seen a rise in gun-related deaths, where youngsters were involved. The United States too is struggling to regulate its ‘gun culture’ and has already witnessed 17 school shootings till the end of March this year. All this has made many parents uncomfortable about their children indulging in pretend play with fake guns. They fear that it would increase their kid’s tendency towards violent behaviour.
“I wouldn't go out of my way to buy my daughter a toy gun, but I wouldn't hide it either, if she got one as a gift. That’s because I have mixed thoughts - sometimes I feel why not show your child that there is something called a gun, it’s a weapon just like a bow and an arrow that parents seem to be okay with. Children do enjoy their pretend-and-play rough fights... but at other times I wonder if we are making a mistake by introducing violence through toy guns and giving her the message that it’s okay,” says Sindhu, a working mom.
It is a normal response for parents to be concerned, when their children use everything from their fingers to even vegetables and other household items, and point them as weapons. It doesn’t help that the market is full of gun-play items – from water guns and Diwali roll cap guns to shooting-based video games.
But, not all parents and experts believe that toys guns should be kept away from children.
“I believe it is alright for kids to play with toy guns and there has been no scientific evidence that has shown any real link to toys guns and future real-life violence. Playing with guns is not about violence but heroism, winning and losing, and the good guy winning over the bad guy. Having said that, when you get a toy gun for your kid the responsibility falls on the parent to educate him about the distinction between pretend shooting and real shooting,” says Meera M, mother of a 7-year-old girl.
So, are toy guns really the problem? Not exactly. By themselves, toy weapons are just like other toys that help children learn new things, expand their imagination and boost creative skills. But in an atmosphere which repeatedly reinforces that violence is alright, it may not be a good idea to give such toys to kids.
“Free play encourages creativity and expression and toys give structure, form and purpose to play. When small kids play and shoot others with toy guns, they thrill at the ‘power’ of being able to make someone immobile, at the drama of the target falling. Do they really understand the true meaning of death? Hardly! Banning something rarely gets the desired results, especially when it comes to toys for children, because there is no guarantee that access to them will be denied elsewhere beyond a parent’s supervision,” says Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and Head – Parent Engagement Programme at ParentCircle.
We all know that children will witness violence – in real life, movies, story books, television serials, video games and live news coverage. It’s important to connect with how the child has experienced the event from his world view and what meaning he has derived from it. Helping him express his thoughts and emotions will give the parents a chance to put things in the right perspective and explain why violent behaviour is unacceptable. A toy may not be harmful, but if the environment consistently promotes aggression the lines between reality and imagination become blurred. A child has very little or no control in the real world, adds Arundhati.
Arundhati gives valuable advice on helping kids be responsible while playing with toy guns --
• Invest in the child’s emotional stability;
• Give her opportunities to explore, discover and build skills and interests;
• Give guidance to distinguish between harmful and harmless choices;
• Teach discretion and validity in seeking harmless thrills.
“The highest investment happens best in homes that are stable, nurturing, warm, consistently firm and resilient to adversities.”
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