The issue of toy guns and their long-term effects on children is a complex one that has different outcomes for different children. The act of playing with toy guns doesn't appear to have a direct influence on violence or aggression, but other factors combined with toys guns can have measurable and negative effects. Ultimately, the choice to allow your children to play with guns is yours alone, but knowing the facts can help you make the decision.
If you walk into any toy store, chances are you'll find toys such as squirt guns and guns that shoot foam bullets. These types of toy guns have been around for decades and most little boys and some girls enjoy a good game of cops and robbers or a rowdy squirt gun fight. The toy guns themselves aren't really the problem, according to a 2003 article published in "Pediatrics," but the attitudes and perception of guns that children receive from parents and other authority figures are the problem. The toy guns themselves don't necessarily pose a risk, it's the way that toy guns are used and how children are taught to play with them that can become a problem.
Toys Guns and Violence
Most kids play with guns as children and few of them grow up to use a gun in an act of violence toward another human being. When parents don't teach their children that using a gun toward other people is unacceptable, they might learn, instead, that gun violence is tolerable, according to the Family Education website. When parents teach their children to never point toy guns at people and not to use them in an attempt to pretend to kill someone else, the gun play doesn't increase aggression or violence, the TVOParents website notes. Instead, it encourages children to engage in beneficial dramatic play, as long as they realize that the guns aren't real.
Banning Toy Guns
Banning toy guns isn't as effective as some parents hope it will be. Keeping toy guns from children doesn't mean they'll never try to "shoot" someone else. Instead, children will fashion guns from their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or just use their fingers. It's the old forbidden fruit issue. Children who are prohibited from playing with a toy gun often will be even more curious about the toys. Even though most children who play with guns won't grow up to be violent, most parents don't encourage toy gun play, according to the journal "Pediatrics." In most instances, children who play with toy guns use them to fight the bad guys, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can help children feel safe and make sense of the world around them.
Considerations and Tips
If you've decided to nix toy gun play in your home, talk to your child about your decision. Tell him that guns are scary and you would rather he not play with them. He might not agree with you, but it's important to give him your reasoning. If you do allow your child to play with toy guns, lay down ground rules. Remind your child that he's not allowed to point the toy guns at other people or that he's not permitted to point the gun at someone not playing the game with him. In most cases, children who play with guns do so because it makes them feel like superheros or knights in shining armor rather than a killer. Do ensure that your child's toy guns look like toys, however. Children can have a difficult time making the distinction between a toy and a real gun, which can lead to gun accidents. If you allow toy guns, buy brightly colored squirt guns or foam bullet guns that can't be mistaken for a real gun.