Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Violent Play--yay or nay?

After my recent post about how boys make everything into a weapon, I had some very good comments, and I wanted to follow up on the subject of aggressive/violent play.
Here are portions of several comments:
I was reading about how boys do seem to play with "weapons" even if they're not allowed to play with toy guns and the like. What I was reading suggested that parents allow their sons to do so without trying to make them feel shame for what seems to be a natural outlet for boys. Also: denying the play altogether has that "don't you wish you could" siren song that might just aggravate the situation, while left alone most boys grow out of the need to swashbuckle.
My mom learned from play therapy with [little ones adopted out of assorted troubled situations] that it's actually important to allow children that "violent" outlet. It's a safe and effective way children act out their aggression and face their fears, and parents need to just act along...
The kids have fun and are able to act out any bad feelings they have, with [mom or dad] being the bad guy and them being victorious heroes in the end. There's something about it that is quite empowering to them. Play therapy is very interesting stuff...
I've always found that no matter how much you try to "shelter" kids from violence, they still like to act it out and make believe such things. Of course, how you talk about violence and portray it in your own life will be shadowed by your children. It's your example that makes the difference.
These comments address three different aspects of violent play: it's just play, acting out feelings, and imitating example. So here are my thoughts on it all.

I certainly get that a certain amount of aggressive (even violent) play is normal and natural and even a healthy release...but even in play, I hope to guide my children in healthy directions, so that as they get older those healthy contexts are implanted in their brains. ☺

The first thing that matters is safety. One commenter mentioned taking a foam swim noodle and cutting it in half to make soft 'swords' for her kids to use. We have done something similar. We also have a good supply of soft beanbags (I fill mine with rice or wheat or lentils so they are softer than beans, I know moms who fill them with fabric scraps or batting!) We try to have safe spaces (no breakable stuff) for rough-and-tumble play. Of course we intervene if anyone is actually getting hurt or scared by the play.
We also teach gun safety. We do keep a hunting rifle in the house (it is kept unloaded, out of reach, has a trigger lock, and the ammo is kept elsewhere...but it's a gun). Even if you don't keep any guns in your home, you should teach your children these simple rules because you never know when they might encounter one.
The second thing that matters is diversity in play. Yes, I'll accept that it's natural to enact violent or aggressive things, however it's also good to play at peaceful things. So we have baby dolls (yep, even for boys--they'll be daddies one day!). We have play food. We have legos and lincoln logs and building blocks and a wooden train set. I teach them knitting and sewing and cooking as they get old enough to do those things too. So sure, they play at being warriors or hunters, but they also play at being parents, builders, and creators.
We also encourage athletic and outdoor activities so that they have plenty of non-violent outlets for their energy. I personally feel that martial arts classes are great (better than wrestling or boxing) because they focus on self control, safety, and a defensive mindset, while still being very cool "fighting" classes.

The final--and in my opinion biggest--thing that matters is the thoughts behind the behavior. Contrary to the old saying, I believe that good intentions DO matter when dealing with children.
We've adopted a household policy of following the "law of the jungle" (which is that it is ok to kill to eat, or in self-defense). We try to follow this both in real life and in play. We also talk about scripture warriors like Gideon, David, and Moroni. We discuss how they followed God's word about defending their family/home/freedom, but how if they took the offensive then they lost His help. Sometimes we talk about samauri or knights and the codes of honor that traditionally went along with being a warrior.
So, according to the law of the jungle, hunting is ok--so long as you intend to respect the animal by killing cleanly and using all the parts. Fishing is the same (though that doesn't surface as often in their play!). When we hunt/fish or otherwise slaughter our own meat we involve our children in this process. (I admit that I am thoroughly squeamish about doing my own butchering, but I believe I would be hypocritical to eat meat if I were not willing to be part of the whole process, and since we have chosen to be omnivores, this is what we do.)
War games are ok in play (such as legos, army men, fencing, wrestling, beanbag wars, balloon fights, foam swords, etc). When they are playing that way, we revisit the scripture warriors. We don't allow video/computer games that involve hurting or shooting people (animal shooting would be ok as per the hunting thing, and target practice is fine). We don't allow any games with blood (realistic or fake-looking) or that otherwise glorify death. We do not watch or allow violent movies for young children (as they get into their teens we intend to allow a few specific films with realistic historical depictions for the educational value).

So there you have it.
What are your thoughts?


Lisa said...

I agree with most everything you've said. I think diversity in the play is important, though it can be a challenge to get boys to implement. Luckily ds is a sports nut, so it's easy to channel him that way.

Where I'm finding myself really in the minority is with video games, and it's causing me to question and wonder what my stance should be. It seems like most of my son's friends' parents (all "good" LDS families) have no issues with violent video games and even movies. Star Wars (not the lego one), watching the latest Batman movie, etc. These are all things ds has been exposed to at other people's houses. I was LIVID when I found out he'd watched part of Batman! My friend who owns the Star Wars game thinks it's no big deal because there is no blood. I'm feeling like the strictest mom on the planet because my standards seem to be so much more tough than everyone else's.

Mommy Bee said...

hey lisa, let's start the "strictest mom on the block" club, i betcha there are more than you think. :) (I can tell you that I'm more lax than my mother or sister, so there's two!)

mamapoekie said...

great post. I will put it on Sunday Surf
I totally agree on th emartial arts. My brother and I did Judo and it - aside from being supercool to floor someone years older - it did teach us rules of engagement and selfcontrol.

But from there... I'm kind of ambivalent.So far the little one has not shown any agressive tendencies or the need for agressive play, so I think we will take it as it goes. In time, I will let her play agressive video games, but only once she is ready for it, and that is still very very long ahead.

I totally agree with the following the food chain idea. I take dd to the market to buy the chickens, ducks etc we eat and then she can feel if they are sturdy enough and then we have them killed and plumed. I also take her to the fish monger.
But these are actually big perks of living in Africa, we are still much more confronted with the food chain than we would be in Europe where everything is either cuddly or styrofoam packaged

nicole said...

I pretty much agree with everything you posted. I have really strong feelings about video games. My main concern with video games is that they can be so addictive! My two (adult) brothers are STILL addicted to those games, and with all the potential they both have, it's a serious shame that they spend hours a day on something that I personally feel is a complete waste of time. Yes, it might be a outlet for relaxation, but aren't there more productive and beneifical ways to relax? Reading for instance? Secondly, many games these days are extremely graphic and/or pornographic, and harmful to not only children, but ANYONE. I'm probably a little extreme on this issue, but it's because I've seen these games limit some of the most bright and talented people I know. And this life is so short... I would rather my children use their time more wisely. Luckily, my husband feels nearly as strongly as I do, and he is very supportive. Needless to say, our children will have very limited access to video games, that's for sure! :)

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