As a parent, I'm unnerved by the amount of violence in society today. So when my two sons started to shoot each other with water guns, fall over, play dead, and talk about killing each other, I took the toy guns away. And as a topical discussion on Circle of Moms shows, I’m not the only mom who doesn’t want her toddlers to play with toy guns.
Circle of Moms member Jo S. grew up around guns, so her knowledge of gun safety is up to snuff. Yet like me, she “can’t get over the nervousness” she feels whenever she sees a young child playing with toy guns. Jo's partner keeps paintball guns and a BB gun at his parents' home. He also has "an insanely immature obsession with Nerf guns,” and thus is trying to convince her to get their son a Nerf gun. But, says Jo, “I just can’t get over the whole idea that ultimately what a gun is for [is] to kill things."
September W., who also grew up around guns and has taken gun safety courses, is another mom who will not allow her two-year-old to play with toy guns. “Although water guns are fun on a hot summer’s day, you are still pointing and shooting at another person; just not cool in my opinion,” she says.
As I delved deeper into the question of whether to allow children to play with toy guns, I found that Jo, September and I are in good company in believing that toddlers are just too young for this kind of play. Here, as shared by Circle of Moms members, are three reasons why you might want to limit your toddlers’ exposure to toy guns until they are older.
1. Toddlers Don't Yet Understand Real vs. Fake
In the debate about whether children should be allowed to play with toy guns, Circle of Moms members tend to agree that there is a time and a place for guns, and that children should be taught the difference between real and toy guns. However, I’m not convinced that toddlers understand the distinction between toy and real guns, never having encountered the latter.
“A lot of toy guns nowadays look like real guns. A child could easily get confused and end up messing around with a real one,” points out Amie T., whose family hunts. That’s why she has decided to keep toy guns out of her toddler's toy box.
“Guns are not toys,” she says, noting that she is teaching her children about gun safety, how deadly they really are and to “never ever touch one without adult supervision." Allowing toddlers to play with toy guns de-sensitizes them to the dangers of real guns and children begin to think of guns as a joke, Amie adds. “It drives me mad when I see kids pretending to shoot people or thinking that it’s funny,” she says. She notes some children may not even register that water guns are meant to look like weapons.
September W. agrees, that “the way guns tend to be played with teaches children the opposite of what guns should be used for, since most times it's ‘shoot ’em up’ type play.” When her two-year-old is mature enough to understand the real purpose of guns, she may allow him to play with water guns and Nerf guns — but never realistic looking guns.
2. Toddlers Have Better Things to Do Than Shoot
Several moms question the wisdom in letting toddlers play with things as controversial as toy guns when there are tons of other toys and games they can play.
Monique C. and Kylie H. encourage moms to help their children find other fun, creative activities that stimulate their children's minds, instead of shooting. For example, Monique and her husband, an Iraq war veteran, encourage their four-year-old and one-year-old to color and play sports.
Louise B. recommends games that will nurture a growing toddler’s mind and motor skills, suggesting that parents teach their children to hit a ball, shoot hoops, draw, explore, play house, doctor, firefighter, etc. — instead of shooting at another person.
Another member, Joy, feels kids get more out of the kind of play she enjoyed as a child, when she “had trees to climb, holes to dig (to China), mud to make pies from, sprinklers to play in, forts to build,” and could just run around and play “chase.” She plans on keeping toy (and real) guns away from her son as long as she possibly can, saying, “I don't know at what age I'll be comfortable with him having any kind of gun, even a BB gun.”
3. Toddlers are Still Learning Self Control
Circle of Moms members generally agree that when you introduce toy guns to your children, it’s important to teach them not to point those guns at anyone. Yet with toddlers, many moms say this is an unrealistic goal given all the the media violence kids see and try to mimic.
Toddlers, who are still learning when and where it’s appropriate to run, jump, climb, do everything else toddlers are supposed to do, cannot be expected to exercise self control and not point a toy gun at another child or animal inappropriately, say Kori V., Layce, and Louise B.
Kori shares that her kindergarten-aged son was expelled because he was acting like he was playing with guns on the playground. While she had tried to teach her son about the acceptable way to play with toy guns and believes the school was being a little harsh, she nevertheless cautions against giving toddlers toy guns because they may not play with them appropriately.
Even Nerf “bullets” hurt, when shot directly at another child, Layce says, noting her step-brother used to shoot his Nerf guns at her and use her as “target practice” when they were children.
And although her son is way past the toddler years at age 7, mom Emile B. shares that her son is having trouble understanding that it’s not appropriate to pretend-shoot people.
“Many children do not have the proper sense of self control until the age of 16,” Louise B. says, thus arguing that it’s important that parents can help by not “indulging violence through play.”
Moreover, says a mom named Joy, “I worry that as hard as I try to shield [my son] from violence, he will be exposed to it (friends, etc, once he starts school), and I don't want to be that mom whose kid gets hurt or hurts someone else because he didn't understand that guns really can hurt and kill people,” says a mom named Joy.
The Gun Safety Test
The bottom line is that when it comes to guns — toy or real — children must be properly educated on how to handle them safely and be respectful of others. And because I used to shoot targets competitively and had to pass a gun safety test myself, I, like Circle of Moms member Kimbeley, will require my toddlers to prove that they are mature enough to handle guns.
Kimbeley suggests making a gun safety test that your child has to "pass" (questioning the use and rules of guns, who can shoot, and what you can shoot). “Once your child passes the test, you can give him a ‘gun license,’ which you can draw up for him,” she says. “If he then does anything with the toy guns that is against the rules (such as pretending to shoot you), then he loses his gun license for an x amount of time and he is not to use any toy guns during this time,” she explains.
This may sound a lot of work to moms who don’t mind if their children play with toy guns. But if you, like me, are doubtful that your toddler is mature enough to understand the difference between toy and real guns, and how not to point guns at people, the “licensing” system is worth the effort, Kimbeley says.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.