Gun Videos, Gun Toys, Gun Safety
I was hoping to get the collective your thoughts. Yesterday my kindergartner got off the bus and told me how one of the older kids (5th grade?) showed him videos of guns on his cell phone. The old boy also held the gun/video up to his head and pretended it was shooting him. Is that OK behavior?
My son has always been a bit timid about violence even the cartoon kind. Most shows, even Disney shows, are too stressful for him. I really like how sensitive he is so I’m not trying to “toughen him up.” So he really hasn’t seen many/any shows that show guns or people getting hurt/dying. We have a no toy gun policy in the house.
Apparently kindergarten is all about the guns. All he talks about are guns guns guns which I HATE. I’m trying to be more mellow because I don’t want them to be the forbidden fruit and have him seek them out.
That being said, I’d really rather him not be watching youtube videos of guns going off (because who knows where that might lead to) but I’m wondering if I’m overreacting and this is one of those things that is inevitable and I have to let go. Should I notify the school, the older boy who did it seems like a nice enough kid. I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I also don’t want my child watching unsupervised youtube videos either. I’m so torn.
And part two, is there anything I could do to lesson his fascination with guns? Should we allow (very obviously a toy) guns in the house? Get them some super soakers for the summer? He loves robots and all things engineering so perhaps show him the physics of how guns work? Something to demystify them but also give him a healthy fear of them. We’ve already had the talk about notifying a grown up if he ever sees a gun (plus I may have promised him 5 lbs of candy if he doesn’t touch it and tells someone). I’m just afraid the lure of a gun will over power his smarts.
TL:DR version. Do I report a kid who is showing other children videos of guns on a bus? What can I do to make sure that if my child ever sees a gun IRL that he doesn’t touch it and tells an adult?
All right, so we have two related-yet-different things going on here. First, the issue of a 5th grader with cell phone and unrestricted YouTube access showing god-knows-what to kindergartners. That’s…not okay. The kid might be a perfectly nice kid who just wants to entertain his friends and show them videos he thinks are cool, but I personally would not feel comfortable trusting a 5th grader’s judgment when it comes to what’s appropriate on the Internet. Case in point, gun videos!
Second case in point, go search YouTube for something perfectly innocent (Dora! Disney! Angry Birds!) and start clicking around. It doesn’t take very long to find something that LOOKS like a kids’ video that is most definitely NOT age appropriate.
Maybe the kid was showing your son home movies from a trip he took to a shooting range. Maybe the guns were sci-fi phasers or animated or something relatively innocent. Or maybe he’s figured out how to deliberately turn off parental controls on his phone so he can watch violent videos and show them off to little kids for a thrill. You just don’t know, and I think a call to the school to find out exactly what’s going on here is perfectly appropriate.
You don’t have to start out swinging, like THIS CHILD MUST BE STOPPED AND PUNISHED AND I WANT THIS IN HIS PERMANENT FILE, but just express concerns that hey, I’m not super-comfortable trusting a 5th grader’s Internet-and-smartphone judgment regarding what’s appropriate to show my kindergartner. Perhaps someone just needs to have a chat with him about cooling it with the YouTube on the bus, or ask his parents to set some better guidelines about his phone usage. And maybe suggest that maybe they check his usage history to make sure there aren’t any gun-and-violence-obsession red flags there.
(Unrelated: 5th graders with their own fully-functional, not-just-for-emergencies smartphones? OH MY GOD IS THIS REAL LIFE?)
Now, the second thing — helping young children develop a healthy respect for guns. I’d aim for “respect” over “fear,” as guns are not just the domain of the “bad guys.” Police officers carry guns, for example, and you certainly don’t want him to see the gun and decide not to ask for help if he needed it because he was scared. (Meanwhile the real bad guy doesn’t have a gun, and is offering him candy! UGH, PARENTING IS HARD.)
For the record, I think the GUNS GUNS GUNS BANG BANG BANG play scenario (particularly for little boys) is a pretty darn normal phase, even for kids who have been completely sheltered from toy guns and gun violence on TV. I don’t know how, but suddenly they all pick up a stick, a rock, a paper towel tube that was once a whimsical telescope and it’s all BANG I SHOT YOU. They figure out that their fingers can shoot and their play becomes all about cops and robbers and PEW PEW PEW.
But this in and of itself doesn’t mean they don’t respect or fear or understand guns — quite the opposite, really, as this sort of play allows them to safely explore the scary idea that people can get hurt and die. That bad guys can be defeated, but also that the good guys don’t always win.
Back when I had one infant child and therefore believed I already knew everything about parenting, I was very staunchly and 100% anti-toy guns of any kind. No water pistols, no sci-fi laser guns, nothing. My husband, on the other hand, did not agree with me. He had a couple (non-realistic) toy guns as a child and felt strongly that they reduced the mystery and forbidden fruit aspect of guns — he played with them occasionally but they quickly just became another toy that was no big deal. His parents spoke with him about real guns not being toys and that he was never, ever to touch one or “play” with the real kind. (He knew what the real kind looked like and were capable of thanks to his much older brother, who — like your son’s 5th grade buddy — had no qualms about letting him watch violent R-rated movies whenever their parents went out and left him in charge. Blergh.)
At some point, the worst-case nightmare scenario that we all dread actually happened to him — he went to a friend’s house and his friend showed him his father’s real, unsecured and possibly-loaded gun. And he did exactly what he was supposed to do — he left immediately and told an adult. OMG.
So I’ve mellowed and compromised on the toy gun issue. (I mean, my kids have a fully tricked-out toy kitchen, and that certainly hasn’t led to them being reckless with the real oven, or mistaking my good chef’s knife for the Melissa & Doug one.) Certain Lego and Playmobil sets (Star Wars, Old West, etc.) come with tiny plastic guns. We have a Star Trek phaser that does absolutely nothing, some pump-action pool water shooters, and a collection of old-timey wooden cork guns from Colonial Williamsburg. Nothing realistic, nothing with potential to hurt or break anything. Anecdotally, I have to agree that my husband was right and the toys have definitely lessened their preoccupation with guns in general — they play with them when they are new, but lose interest eventually and go back to playing without them. When the topics of guns or shooting come up, we reinforce the rule that real guns are not toys, not to be touched, if a friend ever tries to get you to play with one, leave and tell an adult, etc. But for a family chock-full of little boys, guns aren’t a really big playtime obsession around here. (Lately, everybody seems to die from imaginary lightning bolts instead. Okay?)
Obviously, this is a polarizing issue and there are many different opinions about how to approach guns (both toy and real) and proper gun safety with children. Everything from zero tolerance on Super Soakers to buying a BB gun for your 5 year old. We all want the same thing — we want our children to be safe and to make good choices. (So, you know, everybody comment respectfully with that in mind, plz.)
An iPhone on the bus isn’t the same as a gun in a playmate’s parent’s closet, but still: Your main message is getting through, because he came and told you about it. He knew enough to be uncomfortable with the situation because it was out of the norm and involved something that scared him. Sounds like you’re doing pretty good there.