Playing with Toy Guns

The nature/nurture question about what makes boys, even little boys, more aggressive and violent than girls is a never-ending debate.
With all of the discussion on violence, I am concerned about my son and what is normal for a seven year old as far as imaginary play with weapons is concerned. We have discouraged this type play and have not purchased any toy guns. It doesn't matter though, he makes pretend guns out of anything available - sticks, Legos. Some people say that this is a "normal" boy thing and is just a phase. My husband made pretend guns from sticks as a kid and he turned out OK. What do you think? Should we be concerned that this pretend play will lead to more violent behavior?
It's understandable that you are concerned about any potential encouragement of violent behavior in your seven year old. The nature-nurture question about what makes boys, even little boys, more aggressive/violent than girls is a never-ending debate among behaviorists, scientists, and child development experts. You are providing your son with a home environment designed to stimulate his curiosity and creativity. You are doing your part in terms of encouraging healthy play activities.

I would support your not purchasing guns as toys but I would not worry about his utilizing other play objects as guns. You cannot totally prevent him from observing the use of guns in the print and visual media. His peers will also be imitating the gunplay they see on TV, in movies, and in video games. To be "one of the gang", he will join them in their imaginary gunplay.

I would be far more concerned about teaching him tolerance for diversity and resolving conflict through non-violent means than I would about his occasional fantasy gunplay. I would also suggest limiting his exposure to and involvement in violent programming and games. Express and model your values regarding getting along with others. I played with stick guns and toy guns as did your husband. I'd like to think I turned out OK too. We need to provide our sons with ways to be boys and men that do not demand their being aggressive, physically powerful, and dominant. Thanks for writing.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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