When my firstborn son arrived, I swore he would never have a toy gun. But a few months after he started school I found him building a gun out of his Lego blocks and gradually I acquiesced.
I can understand why many parents are worried about toy guns. Twitter was awash this weekend with people complaining that Prince George was seen playing with one, while watching his father play in the Maserati Royal Charity Polo Trophy in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
I know many who forbid their children from owning a toy gun, whether a realistic replica like George’s one, or a bright blue and orange one that shoots foam darts. With constant reports of school shootings and gun crime, particularly in the USA, to them, it doesn’t make sense to indoctrinate children to the allure of guns at a young and impressionable age. I used to share their views myself.
For four years I stuck to my ‘no guns rule’. I asked friends to not buy them as gifts for my firstborn and his two brothers who arrived shortly after. I shielded my boys from violent television programmes and films and resisted visiting the War Museum, close to our home, despite my husband’s protests. I even refused to dress him in khaki, or soldier slogan T-shirts.
A few weeks after I found my firstborn building a gun out of his Lego blocks, we were out for a walk in the forest when my eldest and one of his younger brothers found large sticks on the forest floor. They raised the sticks, closed one eye and proceeded to have a shoot-out with their pretend guns. That Christmas Nerf guns topped their wishlists. I acquiesced. What was the point in banning toy guns if they built them themselves, with whatever came to hand that even vaguely resembled a gun?
With a background in psychology, I was keen to know what the research said.
Was I creating psychopaths by allowing my boys to play with toy guns?
The more I read, the more reassured I became. The scientific evidence was patchy, but consistently found that there was no statistical link between allowing children to play with guns and violence in later life. Or, to put it short, my boys
were no more likely to grow up obsessed with guns and gore than their contemporaries who were content playing with toy cars or dolls.
Play is incredibly important to children. It’s how they process the world in which they live and all that it holds, particularly ‘the bad stuff’. That’s why play therapy is so effective for children who have experienced traumatic events. Play encourages the imagination and allows subconscious fears and anxiety to materialise in a safe way.
In a world full of war and violence, playing rough and tumble games, play wresting and play fights with guns and other weapons, helps children to assimilate the news in a way that helps, not hinders or damages, them.
For Prince George, who comes from a family with strong military ties, gun play can help him to understand the roles his father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather played in the armed services. For my boys, it helped them to adjust to the news reports they heard and saw. Far from causing harm, I would argue that gun play is both healthy and normal for children.