A reader recently wrote in asking about an issue that isn’t uncommon for parents of little boys…managing their growing interest in shooting bad guys.
We’ve had a new development in our 4-year-old’s interests—he’s into guns and killing bad guys. I know boys go through phases but in this day and age this ‘interest’ could potentially get us in trouble. Do you have any suggestions on how we can deal with this to redirect or suppress the language?
Looking around, it’s not that hard to understand why a child would be interested in this. Superheroes or cartoon characters use guns, slingshots, cannons to kill/destroy/eliminate the villains. The result is a growing fascination with “good guys” and “bad guys” as well as the ‘pow’ and ‘kaboom!’ that go along with it.
The truth is much of “boy” play can be pretty violent, but there are ways to curb this.
What Can Parents Do?
- Try Not to Endorse It. The most important thing to do is to limit your implicit endorsement of violence. Doing so sends a message that violence—killing, shooting, destroying—is something you don’t support. By endorsement I mean his exposure to violent images (videos, movies, even cartoons or the evening news), violent stories and violent video games. Because the amount of amount of violence and aggression in the media is shocking. Click here to read AAP guidelines on media use and kids.
- Keep a Watch…When Feasible. For instance, if you are in charge of the play date, you can say that he and his friends need to pick a different game because you don’t allow guns or fighting bad guys at your house.
- Talk WITH him versus TO him. Rather than wagging the finger and saying “no”, start a conversation. If he’s playing with a gun or shooting bad guys, ask him what he’s doing and make sure he understands what’s pretend and what’s real.
Just remember, as a parent there is only so much we can control, but we have the ability to significantly limit the amount of violent playtime in our children’s lives.
Ari Brown, MD