A thoughtful parent sent me an email the other day posing a question about her twin boys (5). She made the brilliant suggestion to start a “Dear Sara” column where I can address these kind of concerns in a larger forum and offer my advice. I love this idea and asked her if I could share her question and she graciously agreed. I am hoping to make this a weekly post, open up our collective dialogue, and establish an online community committed to learning about and challenging culturally normative practices with young children.
Here is what she asked:
How should I respond when the boys show me that they’ve made a picture
of a gun or a gun sculpture or similar? I know the attraction/interest
is natural but I still find myself getting stuck in how to react
(other than asking questions, like I might with any project).
Thank you for any insight.
And here is my response:
I think it’s great that you recognize and acknowledge the allure of these things for children, because let’s face it, it’s everywhere in our culture-including where it shouldn’t be, which is in programs, toys and movies for young children. Children almost have no choice in being attracted to weapons because weapons represent power…and both good guys and bad guys are armed to the teeth. As long as you act out of an understanding that our adult consciousness about the horrors of what guns do is very different than a child’s thinking about it, then it becomes easier to keep your perspective from overwhelming or scaring the kids. Our minds tend to project far into the future…which can lead to lots of worry that is unnecessary.
But if you are looking for practical ways to engage in conversations about guns with the boys here’s what I suggest:
Don’t be afraid to “share your truth”, you can say that guns make you uncomfortable. You can even share why by saying “they are made to hurt and kill, and those things are not okay.”
But the tricky part is truly letting go of their response to that. They may still want to draw guns, and play rough games…and they should be able to as long as the play is consensual and safe. Playing is how children actually work out and learn to manage their feelings of fear or upset in a forum they can (generally) control.
The other piece I can point to is that if we want to actually counteract the appeal of using violence to solve problems, we have to “arm” our children with better ways to resolve conflict…pun intended. Speaking with children and giving them the tools and language to communicate, especially when disagreement occurs, is crucial to their development of empathy. Boys especially need these tools because the societal pressure (even on very young boys) to BE and ACT tough is thouroughly toxic and denies them the human connection they so desperately need when they are sad, or scared or angry.
I have full confidence that you will raise J & L with compassion, and instill the values that you so clearly hold.
I consider this exchange the beginning of vital conversations we should begin having about touchy subjects like politics, violence, emotional literacy, body autonomy and consent, risky and rough play, deconstructing gender roles, commercialism, and responsible media consumption (to name a few, ha!) I will post links to some fantastic resources that you might want to check out. Please let me know what you think!
This is a fantastic Ted Talk about the concept of toxic masculinity, especially how it pertains to boys and sports culture.
Here is the website for Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.
Nancy Carlsson-Paige is an all around fantastic writer and child advocate. She has written about the balance of meeting children’s needs in an overwhelmingly media-saturated culture. Here is her website. (She’s also Matt Damon’s mom)
This is a short, but powerful documentary about the alarming trend of commercialism taking over childhood. It’s an eye opener!