Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

My 3 year old has decided to be a cowboy for Halloween and he is very excited. But I think he is more excited because he thinks he should have a gun to complete his costume. I'm not a big fan of guns, toy or otherwise, so he and I have an ongoing discussion on whether he should really have one for Halloween. After much badgering by him, I agreed that I would get him a gun as long as it only "shoots love". He looked at me in disbelief, almost disgust, and asked me quite seriously, "How will I ever kill the bad guys then?"

That's a good question. But a better question is how did my 3 year old learn about "bad guys" and guns? I thought I had done a pretty good job of shielding his little world, but somehow he has still identified good and evil and has figured out how fighting and weapons can be used. For instance, this afternoon he wanted me to sit in his bean bag chair in his room and watch his choreographed "battles" against the "bad guys". Starting from the hallway he came flying into the room to battle his imaginary opponents. Since he does not yet have the gun he wants so badly, these battles were all fought with his hands, but in his mind they were swords, light-sabers, and guns. While I was sitting there watching I was thinking, "Is this normal boy behavior or should I be concerned?"

Before I had kids I would have found today's battle display disturbing and would have assumed the kid performing had serious issues. But I have since come to learn that boys can and will turn any object into an imaginary weapon, and in most cases they are not intending to hurt anyone. I heard stories about my nephew shooting people with string beans at the dinner table when he was 3. And now most days I find my own 3 year old like a sniper around the house. He not only will shoot or "sword" you with anything he can find, but he also has a habit of walking around the house making sound effects of things blowing up. It was unsettling at first, but it now seems pretty normal for a boy.

I'd like to think that boys are just genetically programmed like this. Its my only explanation since my kids don't watch violence or weapons on television or in movies and don't see it demonstrated by the people in their lives. But, even without these influences my older son as early as the age of 4 would "fight" with his preschool friends for fun. One of the little boys would say "let's fight" and within seconds the whole group of them would be rolling around on the floor wrestling and giggling. Yes, giggling. And sometimes the wrestling match would just turn into a big hug. Boys will be boys and it is not containable. A perfect example was at last year's Country Club Christmas party where one boy started a trend by asking the balloon clown to make a sword; then another boy topped that by asking for an Uzi. Within the hour every boy under the age of 10 had some type of balloon shaped weapon. In the middle of a very elegant party, there was a graphic balloon battle being fought in the corner of the dining room in uniforms of Christmas plaid and Bucks. I had to laugh a little when I saw my then 2 year old blaze past me hot on a waiter's trail with his balloon Uzi - sound effects and all.

So, I laugh and hope that this play is just play and does not affect how they turn out as people. My husband keeps reminding me that good versus evil is just human nature and kids try to grasp that concept in whatever way they can; sometimes that is role-playing games. Although my kids do always want to be the "good guy" and fight the imaginary "bad guy", I still don't like the pretend shooting. But, I think back to my childhood where half of the toys in my house were my brother's and mostly weapons. He had a full arsenal of realistic looking toy cap guns, swords, and bow and arrows; and I like to think that my brother and I turned out alright. So, I'm working with my kids on this. I still don't like guns, but I point out to them the police officers and the armed service people who use them for good to protect us. My 3 year old is now going to be a Sheriff for Halloween, not just a cowboy. And he did come back to me after much thought about his Halloween gun with a compromise. He is now asking for "just a gun that shoots nothing" so it won't hurt anyone. I guess I can deal with that.

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