When our first son was a toddler, my husband and I decided we would not allow toy weapons in the house, lest he grow up desensitized to violence. We also determined that our boys should abstain from role-playing games that involved first-person shooting, stabbing, punching, or any variation thereof. All the studies I'd read about the effect of violent video games on children were sufficient to convince me that surely prohibiting all forms of make-believe aggression at home would lead to the development of peaceable young men who respect human life.
Well, in theory, this all sounded pretty reasonable. But as most parents can attest, ivory tower parenting often gives way to real world compromises.
First came the straws. One afternoon, I found my two oldest boys happily brandishing swords they had fashioned together from plastic drinking straws, crudely connected from end to end with Scotch tape. I actually felt a little sorry for them, having to resort to recreating Luke and Darth Vader's duel with straws pilfered from the pantry.
Then, I discovered the rifles built from Legos. When I approached my 3-year old about his stash of firearms, he told me matter-of-factly, "Mommy, they're not guns. They're called shooters." Wonderful, I thought to myself... not only do I have a pint-sized sniper in the house, but he already understands the power of semantics. I think I've just met a future lawyer.
Soon, it seemed that any ordinary household object was being turned into weaponry. Who needs an egg timer when it is far better as a ticking grenade; or a syrup bottle if a few modifications can render it a suitable uzi? And if there were no materials around, the boys simply resorted to using their fingers as imaginary pistols.
Well, part of me found all of this rather amusing. I had to applaud their creative thinking... who knew I'd given birth to a team of mini-Macgyvers!
But clearly, something wasn't working in the parenting department.
So when the invitations to laser tag parties started arriving this past year, my ideals had all but flown out the window. By now, I had already caved and bought them water guns, Nerf blasters, toy light sabers, and a plastic doohickey that shoots foam arrows. "So you want to strap on army gear and pretend to shoot your friends in the chest with laser guns?" I asked the boys.
"Most definitely!" they replied with glee.
Needless to say, I've come around to the idea of toy weapons. It's not as if I ever believed that boys who play with toy guns grow up to be violence-craving thugs. After all, generations of boys have played some version of cops and robbers without uniformly turning into armed felons. And in reality, although my boys like to engage in the occasional epic galactic battle, they are far more interested on an everyday basis in innocuous activities like soccer, biking and chess.
As a parent, I've realized that even the most well-intentioned rules aren't always worth enforcing. I'm not saying I'll allow the boys to play "Call of Duty" or shoot rabbits in the backyard with BB guns when they're older, but for now, I am okay if they want to arm themselves with plastic lightsabers to save the universe.