This morning in the garden:
Ben: [picking up a large stick] This is my gun, Mommy.
Me: [alarmed but trying not to show it] Oh?
Ben: Yeah. I’m going to shoot mean people.
Me: I don’t think you should shoot people, even if they’re mean.
Ben: Why not?
Me: Well, it hurts them. It might even kill them.
Ben: [reassuringly] Oh, I’ll only shoot the mean people.
Me: Maybe you could call the police and they could take the mean people to jail.
Ben: And after they take them to jail, I’ll shoot them.
Me: Who are the mean people?
Ben: You know, bank robbers.
Well, at least he’s not thinking of someone we know.
Although there is very little hard research on how gun play affects children (at least according to my cursory search), there is no question that many, perhaps most, children go through a stage in which they are fascinated by guns and fighting. Looked at positively, they are learning about aggression and conflict in a safe, non-threatening way. Looked at even more positively, they are acting out fantasies of being a hero, protecting other people, getting the bad guys. Looked at that way, gun play is not so much about hurting someone as it is about protecting someone. Looked at less positively, guns are dangerous and I don’t want my son going around shooting people, real or imaginary.
And there’s the real issue: when Ben pretends that his stick is a gun, to me it’s about the gun, which is dangerous and can kill people. To Ben it’s about the mean people, and he’s going to protect me from them.
I guess he’s thinking of someone we know after all.