I watched him from a distance, playing. He always loves to go to that very same spot, right after the bell rings and he races out the side door from school, before he’ll even look up to find me. There I find him again, in the dirt, playing with sticks, and with friends. I love to watch him when he doesn’t know I’m watching – such imagination – quick to form a game – a club – to live out an adventure in those few moments before I tell him it’s time to head home. Three of his favorite things. Dirt. Sticks. Friends.
After we finally start on our way home, he stops and bends down to pick up a stick, but holds it up like a rare, hidden treasure. “Mom, look at this stick! Wow, it looks just like a gun.” He shoves it in his backpack, filled already with school papers, a Batman lunch box, and a few new rocks found in the dirt pile. My “all boy.” Love him more than words can ever express.
Maybe that’s why a certain particular story in the news this week so impacted my heart.
We could have easily been “those” parents. He could have just as well have been “that” boy.
“Two 6 yr. old boys are suspended from a Maryland school for playing “guns” by making hand gestures with their fingers while on the playground. It was the second such incident in the state in recent weeks.”
Really? Suspended??? Sent home?
When I first heard it on the evening news, I thought I must be missing something important from the story, I went back, listened again. Yep, I heard it right. In all fairness to the school, there may be information that we all just don’t know. And, in all fairness to the boys, and their parents, there may not be any more information than that very simple story. Incredible.
Have we become a culture that over-reacts to a child’s simple make-believe, imaginary play of good guys, bad guys? Or do we simply long to protect our children so much, that it’s easier to just do away with the whole idea of “guns” altogether? Have we become hyper-sensitive out of the grief our nation has faced in recent days?
Like all of you, my heart continues to ache for the community of Sandy Hook, of Aurora, and of others in our country who have suffered at such a great price. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain, the absolute loss, they continue to carry. And in the midst of all of the craziness in the world today, I remind myself that there must still somehow be innocence left as our children play. They don’t know what we know. They don’t watch the evening news, or read stories on the internet, or read the headline news in the paper every day.
They are children. They have huge imaginations, big hearts, and a whole world waiting to be explored. They have dreams. They have vision. They live with a sense of adventure. They are learning the difference between good and bad, holding onto the hope that good guys always win, believing the truth that good always triumphs over evil.
It’s that awareness that brings me back to this place – of what we believe – of what must be true – of what we can still hold onto. And it begs to answer the question – should kids be allowed to “play” guns? Or, for that matter, any other form of “weapons?” Where do we draw the line? What is considered “O.K.” and what should be off-limits? Maybe each family must decide on their own, but here are some conclusions we came to, after recent soul-searching in this area:
1. Kids are always exploring, discovering, learning. They have amazing imaginations and incredible creativity to role-play a whole story line at a moment’s notice – let them play good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers, army, Star Wars, cowboys and indians, etc. Didn’t you? Didn’t most all of us? Their simple “play ideas” are actually forms of learning for them – learning choices, learning what is moral, what is true, what is good, what is right.
2. Once, in my efforts of trying to calm down our boys’ more “active” play, my husband said, “boys are warriors by nature, they think differently, they’re only playing.” I know as moms, most of us are just not wired the same way. Boys often do like to play war, set traps, blow things up, hunt for frogs, build things high only to knock them over, and then come inside to eat warm chocolate chip cookies with milk. It’s all just part of a normal day in their lives. Over time, I’ve grown to embrace and enjoy the differences. Does this mean all boys are the same? Of course not – just like all girls are not the same. Nor does it mean that they will “only” play battle games or guns, it just may be one of the many things they enjoy among a huge variety of others – sports, camping, fishing, music, art, bikes, skateboarding, science, animals, dinosaurs, trains, cars, books, etc. The point is this – accepting that our kids may not always think the same as we do, or enjoy exactly what we do – and learning to embrace what makes them unique and different.
3. As kids play with swords, laser tag guns, nerf weapons, and bows and arrows – often their play turns into another episode of needing to “save” someone. They have the mindset, even at this young age, to rescue, to help. Encourage that. Foster it. Let that grow. I remember Noah coming downstairs early one morning, disheveled hair, but dressed already in his Batman suit. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m ready. I might need to save someone today.” Then, he sat down to eat his bowl of cheerios and went on with his adventurous day. Let them be boys. Let them be kids. Let them “save” someone.
4. Often when we try to zap it all away and pretend that play weapons don’t exist, shouldn’t be allowed in our lives, they will still somehow be formed – out of a stick, or a banana, or a hand gesture. It simply does exist. We can’t wish it away. I remember reading a quote by James Dobson from his book “Bringing up Boys,” that said, “you could have a boy who’s never had a toy gun and he’d eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the shape of a pistol.” It just happens. Believe or not. It’s true.
5. Just like with any type of kids play or game, we can set parameters and reinforce values that we hold important. We can teach responsibility, boundaries, respect, safety. We can monitor their play. I grew up in a house with guns, a lot of guns. My dad was a hunter and I knew from an early age what the safety boundaries were surrounding guns and crossbows. I learned to shoot before I could even drive and though I’m not a gun enthusiast today, it was a skill I’m thankful to have learned and a lesson that has helped me in being a mom to 2 boys and my girl. I’ve found myself teaching them the same valuable truths that my dad taught me along the way, even with their toy play – if someone else isn’t playing swords, lasers, or guns, and you are – leave them alone – don’t point or hit towards someone’s face, ever – show respect to others.
6. Use their play as a hands-on lesson in teaching about standing up for God. We ARE in a real battle here in this world, that we often forget is “real.” Ephesians 6:10-14 says this, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.” Read it. Memorize it. Believe it.
7. Study great warriors of the Bible and men of strength and power – read about what made them succeed, or what led to failures – David, Joshua, Caleb, Samson. I tell my boys all the time, “God has made you strong, He’s made you healthy, and He’s given you that gift for a reason – for you to help others, to use your strength for good and not to hurt, to defend those who need help, to work hard, and to use those muscles to bring honor to God.” They’ve heard me say it a lot through the years, but every time I look them in the eye and speak those words, I can see them stand up a little taller, lift their chin a little higher, believe that truth that sinks deeply into their very being – the hearts of warriors.
8. Kids who play with toy guns are NOT more likely to grow up and have a fascination with guns, be wired towards violence, or exhibit criminal activity. It’s just not true. As a parent, we should be increasingly more aware and concerned with not only what our kids are playing outside, but what our kids are watching inside – on screen – TV, movies, video games. Parental guidance and safer boundaries are greatly needed here. Kids who are on a pathway to future trouble, will normally exhibit some key signs early on – we are wise to take note of these, and get help quickly when needed. Some signs cited by the National School Safety and Security Services include: “withdrawal, social detachment, threats – and the efforts to carry out the threats, disciplinary problems in school and/or criminal activity in communities, abuse of animals, suicidal threats.” (These are listed among others.)
Admittedly, parenting is just sometimes a scary road. The realization that our world is different now than when we grew up is often haunting to us. We don’t want to mess up. We don’t want our kids to be messed up. We strive to make the best choices. We desire, more than anything, to protect them, to keep them safe. Most all of us, if we’re honest, do struggle at times with fear either in our parenting or about our children. We may over-react or be hyper-sensitive. We may not have monitored their behavior or what they’re doing enough. We may sometimes set too many limits. Or other times, not enough boundaries. We may disagree with one another in our decisions of what is best. But there is one thing that draws us together, the one thing that we all share in common as parents in this world. We are not perfect. None of us. We make mistakes, we learn as we go, we keep moving forward, doing the best that we can.
And the truth that encourages me most on the journey is simply this – God Himself, the Creator of the entire universe, and the Amazing Creator of each of my unique children – loves them more than I ever could. It’s hard to imagine, but He does. And when we ask Him for wisdom in raising these most precious treasures, He is SURE to give it to us…each day…for every new step along the way. Ask Him.
Trust Him with their hearts. Thank Him for their sense of adventure. Believe Him for their future – to keep them in His care – always.
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you…” James 1:5