Boys, Toy Guns and Video Games

Why do boys like to play with guns? My son turned 13 this weekend and for his party wanted to have an “Airsoft War”. What this means is that you divide a group of 13-14 year old boys into teams and they try to ambush each other, capture the fort or take each other out with biodegradable bbs. Note: this does not mean they don’t sting.

Now before you roll your eyes and wonder what kind of terrible parent would let their kids do this, let me give you some background info based on my experiences as a parent and as a preschool teacher.

When my son was born, I did my best to interest him in the creative projects my daughter liked to do. She could sit for hours drawing, painting, molding or cutting and pasting and she had a good imagination. He never had the patience for such creativity and preferred physical activity. He was always in motion.

When he got older, he started to play shooting games. I don’t know where he got the idea since we rarely watched anything not G-rated. I tried to squash it in the bud and anytime he wanted to play, I offered a distraction. However, even though I refused to buy toy guns, he found a way of turning sticks or Legos into weapons- and if all else failed, his thumb and pointer made a perfect pistol.

My son was not unique to this interest. Over the 10 years I taught preschool, 90% of the boys in my classes gravitated towards play fighting, dressing up as police officers or having dinosaurs stomp on each other. Sure I had some  boys who liked art projects, dressing in girls clothes or acting out more amiable dinosaur games; but the overwhelming majority seemed to have an innate attraction to guns.

The first gun I ever broke down and bought for my son was a tiny, relatively harmless water pistol- one that could be classified as a fun summer way to cool down. Before long, though, he wanted a Nerf gun- and not just a single shooter, but one loaded with about a dozen velcro bullets.

This satisfied him for a while and then kind of faded from his radar while he moved on to virtual gun fights in video games. I tried to hold my ground on the M rating, but eventually lost out since he played them at his friends’ houses anyway.

I spent some time watching the video games- analyzing how gory or violent they were- trying to see if there were any lessons to be learned. Unfortunately I never discovered the bullet with the silver lining.

By the time he was 12, he had owned 3 different gaming devices (not including hand-held ones). I had resigned myself to letting him play online with his friends (we did have rules about that) and made sure to keep talking to him about violence in reality. This past summer, though, the gaming reached a disturbing peak. He and his friends were no longer going outside to ride bikes or shoot hoops. Instead they were gaming on beautiful summer days. I limited my son’s time, but he could never seem to get a friend to quit gaming and play outside.

Thus, when he told me he wanted to round up some friends to host this “war” for his birthday, I agreed and even offered to help him carry it off (obviously my thoughts were on safety).

The event occurred this afternoon. He and 5 friends, dressed in long pants, shirts and face masks carrying AKA-47’s, looked very intimidating. My husband and I camped out in the field in order to monitor the situation- stocked with Gatorade, a first aid kit and extra ammo.

The boys played their games for over 2 1/2 hours. It was a gorgeous Fall afternoon- unseasonably warm for this time of year. I had nothing better to do than sit in my chair and watch how he and his friends translated their video gaming experience to real life strategies.

Watching them sneak thru the woods, cover each other or run straight for the target, was very entertaining. They have so much more patience than I do. And there they were, running around in this glorious fall breeze, having fun like in the good old days before we had video games. The only difference is back then we used sticks.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. suzicate
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 14:50:49

    It’s definitely a BOY thing! Most of my friends and I are the parents of boys, and we all had the idea of not buying toy guns for our kids when they were small…they created them with stick, paper towel rods etc until we gave in. Yes, we even did paint ball after the water guns….they all grew up to be perfectly fine young men.



    • themiddlegeneration
      Oct 12, 2011 @ 15:20:43

      Hi Suzi,
      I know studies have been done to link such “male” behavior to genes or chemistry, but as a mom who doesn’t have that same tendency it is very disconcerting to allow such behavior. I’m glad to hear they all turn out well in the end, but I think that is thanks to the moral values we try to squeeze in while allowing our boys to play. I appreciate your thoughts on this touchy topic…



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