My son wants a gun. He wants a gun so he can “gun” people and “dead” them (the fact that he hasn’t connected the appropriate verbs to the nouns may or may not imply that he’s ready to have one.) He has been begging me for a ray gun at Mastermind, the kind that flashes seizure-inducing lights and emits blips and bleeps I can only assume were recorded in the fourth circle of Hell. As the old adage goes, boys will be terrifying.
So far, I have flatly refused to bring any sort of weaponry into our home. In not-so-peaceful protest, he’s now creating ad hoc guns out of whatever happens to be around: a paper towel roll, a piece of paper, a stick. He used to love reading books and playing with his toy trucks and trains. Now he loves guns, swords and maintaining a pitch that could drown out a demolition.
So what gives? What’s with the obsession with weaponry, makeshift or otherwise? I don’t subscribe to the whole “boys will be boys” theory. Not all boys are drawn to guns. We gave him a doll when he was younger (also a gun now.) Am I raising a sociopath? Is the drive to be aggressive in a boy’s DNA? I conducted a bit of research, and I found a wealth of information by “Boy Expert” Michael Gurian. Here’s what I found:
1. “Aggressive” is not necessarily “violent”: Gurian claims there’s no substantive link between aggressive boys and violent adults. It comes down to environment; so long as my energetic kids’ behavior is channeled in constructive ways, I have every confidence that he’ll avoid jail time. He’s a human perpetual-motion machine, so we try to give him every opportunity to burn off his energy.
2. The role of imaginative play: Imaginative play helps children understand and process their world. Many (nearly every boy I’ve ever met) are hard-wired to seek aggressive play filled with good guys, bad guys and adventure. Nate is constantly narrating elaborate action sequences that are informed by his favourite shows and movies (he also thinks he’s a Storm Trooper), or just from his own imagination. Playing with makeshift guns is just that – play. He doesn’t have sophisticated concepts of “killing” and “death” just yet.
3. Testosterone: Gurian calls testosterone, “humanity’s life insurance.” In my experience, my son has always played differently than his female cousins. According to Gurian, testosterone is responsible; it fuels the desire to be active, take risks, run around, jump, hit, yell – and pick up sticks and turn them into semi-automatic assault weapons.
So what do I do when my mini Rambo states “I’m going to gun you”? First off, any weapon-y looking devices that come into our house look like toys, not like real guns. They shoot foam batons, not bullets. I’ve also talked (and talked) to him extensively about the “game” of guns: don’t point it at people’s faces and no gun play with people who don’t want to participate. Apparently, I’m also doing the right thing by saying “I don’t like it when you talk about killing me.” As Gurian advises, “Be serene about this threat.”
That’s me, Captain Serenity.
NOTE: After this post was written, Nate’s father bought him the space gun (pictured on the right.) Keep an eye out for my next post about how to bury a body without leaving any evidence.
Michael Gurian is an America marriage and family counselor, corporate consultant and social philosopher. He has published over 28 books, including: The Wonder of Boys, The Minds of Boys and Boys and Girls Learn Differently!