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strapped on the weighted vest, tightened the belt around my hips and released
the gun as instructed. I listened intently to everything the boy half my
age was saying, knowing we were about to enter battle and his
instructions would help me succeed in picking people off. Where was I? On
the frontlines somewhere in the Middle East? Basic training in San Diego? A second-grade birthday party in the San Fernando Valley? If you guessed the
latter, no doubt you are a parent who has scaled the mountain of “shooting
party” options from water guns, to Nerf guns to the game I was about to play,
I hate guns. I have signed anti-gun petitions and gone to “Mothers
Against Guns” rallies. Despite my contempt, when my 7-year-old was invited
to this laser tag fiesta, I decided to see for myself what could possibly be
fun about the experience of shooting at people in a way that allowed you to
feel as if you were, I don’t know how else to say this, shooting people. I’ll get back to my experience later, but, first, let’s get to the point of the
latest mistake of the week, made by parent educator and mother of two, Rebecca
speaking with Weiker, I have to admit I was a little naive to the influence of
gunplay on boys. For reasons I don’t know, given how common it is, pretend
shooting/killing has never been popular in our house. One time my father-in-law,
a veteran of two wars, brought over a bag of water guns, and I took them from
his hands and threw them directly in to the trash. The boys looked at him
and said, “Mom hates guns. Sorry Grandpa,” and ran off. Somehow we have
also skirted the onslaught of shooting references and gun games in their
schools. In talking to mothers of boys, I know this is not the norm. It was in my conversation with Weiker that I was most moved by the
challenge of managing boys’ impulses for gunplay.
has good reason to ban guns, toy or otherwise, from her life. In 1992, her
sister, an adolescent and child psychologist working in Israel at a community
mental health center, was shot and killed by a patient along with three other
women. According to Weiker, before having her first son, “I hadn’t read
anything about raising children to be nonviolent. But I thought the way to do
it was by making it clear that it wasn’t okay to play with guns, because that’s
how people learned how to be violent— through violent play. That it encouraged
boys to be violent.” She managed to keep guns out of his life until her boy was given a water gun as a party favor when he was three. Then he went to preschool, and she was overwhelmed by all the boys running around yelling, “I’m gonna kill
you,” brandishing plastic guns, turning Legos in to guns, even using their
fingers as guns.
Tentative at first, I quickly acclimated to the kill or be killed spirit of the game.
drove me nuts,” she told me. “I couldn’t keep him from this kind of thinking,
but I tried. I didn’t buy them for him, and I think I probably shamed him when
he asked for them. “Then, when he was around four or five, he asked her to buy
him a fake gun. In a panic she blurted out, “Guns aren’t toys! They actually
hurt people. My sister was killed by someone with a gun.’” Although embarrassed
to admit it, at the time, she had no insight that this wasn’t the right way to
handle his request.
It wasn’t until she talked it over with a therapist
that Weiker was told restricting all gunplay, and making the connection to
a real murder to her preschool-age son, wasn’t the best choice. The
therapist assured her that gunplay, within reason, was perfectly normal for
boys and that they should not be shamed for wanting to do it. The therapist told her, “Ezra needs to be able to play with toys, with daggers and swords, and army guys, and dragons and knights, and
soldiers,” Weiker said. She was also directed to the expert on children and media,
Diane E. Levin, whose books "The War Play Dilemma" and "Teaching
Young Children in Violent Times" Weiker credits with helping her make peace with
what she now refers to as, “the pretend violence of my son's play.”
holiday shopping season here, what a perfect time to give some thought to the
effects of toy guns, video games and all other war-themed toys for our kids. To help you with your choices, here’s a link to one article that may help
you understand the connection between violent video games and children. Unfortunately, no studies are conclusive enough to get rid of
the most dangerous video games, the ones referred to as “first-person
shooter games” (think “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto”)
forever. Given that violence isn’t going anywhere as a source of
entertainment — in fact, if anything, it’s increasing — I have another link for
you, this is to one of Diane Levin’s articles “Beyond Banning War and Superhero
Play: Meeting children’s needs in Violent Times,” (Young Children, May 2013).
There was no question that I liked shooting these women and children, and strategically ducking out of the way before they shot me.
Now, back to the laser arena and me suited up, gun in hand, a soldier for the Blue
Team. Tentative at first, I quickly acclimated to the kill or be killed spirit
of the game. Hanging back in corners, pointing my gun at enemies of all
shapes and ages lit up in red and gold bulbs, a surge of adrenaline ran through
me every time I pointed my gun and heard the winding down siren letting me know
I’d hit someone.
didn’t take long for me to get the thrill of the laser kill. Instantly, I understood
what Weiker was talking about when she said the problem with most gun games is
that no one understands real consequences or makes a connection to a
person. There was no question that I liked shooting these women
and children, and strategically ducking out of the way before they shot
me. I know it was rays of light and not bullets, but the experience of
it, of having a gun-shaped device in my two hands that I pointed and fired, was
enough for me to realize that I needed to never do this again.
saying that playing laser tag is going to make me a serial killer. I’m also
not saying it will make every kid one. But I am saying, an adrenaline hit,
whatever the source, is intoxicating.
you live in a sequestered village you will not be able to keep violence, real
or virtual, completely out of your children’s lives. Nor should you try to. But
I do believe with everything I know to be true that it is our responsibility as
parents to monitor it as best we can for the children out there who discover it
and find themselves overtaken by the false sense of power it can deliver, thereby becoming a threat to themselves and to all of us.