Last month, I “unfriended” someone on Facebook for the first time. In fact, I had to Google how to unfriend someone. It was December 21, one week after the horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Like most people in America and around the world, I was shaken to my core from the events which transpired on December 14, 2012.
Not only could I not fathom what must have been going through the teacher’s minds on that terrible day (even though I was a teacher myself), but I could not get over the twenty first graders who were murdered. I could not even look at my own first grader for weeks afterwards without getting teary eyed thinking of the parents who would not get to hug and kiss their first graders goodnight.
That is why, when I logged on to my Facebook newsfeed and saw three of a Facebook friend’s children, ages 6, 4 and 2, holding semi automatic rifles under a caption which read “This is how we do Christmas in Texas” one week after the Connecticut shootings, that I could no longer have that person as a friend on Facebook. A line had been crossed, and I could not look away.
Some may say I made a rash decision and I should not “unfriend” someone because of one post, but that post in particular was so upsetting to me that there was no other possible action I could take. I just knew I didn’t want to see it on my newsfeed again. I understand that people have guns to hunt and I respect that, but I do not and most likely will never feel that guns in the hands of young children, even as a joke, will ever be okay with me. Yes, even after being escorted all over Lagos by armed guards and being around guns on a regular basis, I do not feel that guns in the hands of children are ever okay.
I felt good about the decision I made until I watched my own first grade son play a few weeks ago. Like many boys his age, he loves Ninjago ( Legos), Super Heroes and Super Mario Galaxy. The Ninjago figures come with weapons like swords and nun chucks. The characters on Super Mario Galaxy have to “defeat” each other. I never really thought about it before, but what is really going through my son’s mind when he is playing with these toys? He plays pretend with his friends at school at recess and they all pretend to be the different ninjas. What are they really thinking they are doing when they are “defeating” each other? He is a happy, healthy seven-year old, and he displays no signs of violence of any kind.
My two younger brothers played with cap guns all the time when we were little. They made pretend guns out of sticks. They did not grow up to be mass murderers. It seems that now, even the thought of anything to do with a gun as a toy is taboo. I, myself, always said my children won’t play with toy guns, but somehow the pretend weapons have made their way into our home anyway.
What is the answer? I am not sure. I thought the line about weapons for me was clear…my children would not be exposed to guns or weapons of any kind, but now I see through toys and video games that thought is not true. Even if these toys and video games aren’t introduced at home, children will find out about them through other friends they meet. The line is blurred and at times hard to see.
Is this a rite of passage for young children to explore imagination through pretend weapons or is it just the same as posting pictures of young children holding real rifles? After all, pretend or not, weapons are weapons and the outcome cannot be disputed.
I personally see when my son plays pretend with his Ninjago figures, super heroes and video games that he is making sense of his own world and what he perceives to be right and wrong. He acts these scenarios out through his play and at this stage, he does not really understand what “defeated” ultimately means. We have talked several times about how all of the super heroes and Super Mario games are not real and they are only make-believe. In his world of imagination, he only understands that the “good guys” are always the ones who win.
I do feel a slight pang in my stomach when my son runs through the house and yells that he defeated Pythor (from Ninjago) for the hundredth time, but does that make it wrong? I just don’t know anymore. The line seems so blurred now.
Do you have certain toys or games which are off limits to your children because of weapons? How do you teach your children about violence in toys and video games?
This is an original post by Meredith. You can check out her adventures with her husband and two children in Lagos, Nigeria and her transition back to living in the U.S. on her blog www.wefoundhappiness.blogspot.com/
Photo credit to the author.