parent opinion

'My son has a ‘weapons basket’ in his bedroom. I asked a psychologist if I should worry.'

When I was an eight-year-old, way back in another millennium, I loved nothing more than performing dance routines with my best mate, Katie, or playing Barbie dress-ups.

I was (I am not ashamed to say), a traditionally girly-girl with a crush on Scott Robinson from Neighbours and a collection of non-ironic hair scrunchies. I spent a lot of time in a peaceful, fantasy world of flower fairy tea parties and crafting shoe-box beds for my soft toy collection. I had zero interest in weapons or fighting of any sort, and I had no time at all for the likes of Transformers, He-Man, M.A.S.K or any other 1980s ‘battle-centric’ cartoon.

Fast forward to 2018 and I am mum to eight-year-old Toby, a boy who cannot get enough of the contemporary versions of those TV shows and movies. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Slugterra, Transformers and the associated merchandise have been on a fairly constant rotation in our house for years now.

His collection of Nerf guns, water pistols, swords, light sabres and shields have their own ‘weapons basket’ in his bedroom and if he happens to be away from his room, he takes to using any old object as a firearm replacement. I have been shot at by a clothes hanger (makes a good crossbow apparently), a stick, a kitchen utensil (barbeque tongs are popular) and if all else fails, his fingers still make the best pistols.

violent video games cause violence
Behold... the weapons basket. Image: Supplied.

This love of war games is not a recent phenomenon and while he loves reading and outdoor sporting activities, Toby has always been drawn toward the super hero and villain dynamic. There are plenty of Marvel-themed junior Lego sets now collecting dust and a box of age three sized hero dress-up costumes, now safely stored for future use by younger brother Leo.

The weapons themselves haven’t worried me too much in the past but when mixed in with a love of Fortnite (now limited to weekends only), his obsession for fighting and shooting at things in real life and online has become at worst a worry and at the very least, highly irritating. I am also slightly sick of collecting and rehoming Nerf bullets that somehow get mixed in with the washing or found in the cutlery drawer.

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I spoke to psychologist and founder of Empowering Parents, Giuliett Moran, about this fight-based phase of Toby’s development and my worries. As a mum-of-three, she has had similar parenting concerns and thankfully her professional advice is very reassuring.

She says: “There is no research to suggest that playing war games throughout childhood leads to real-life aggression. Typically, themes of this play are around winning and losing, heroism, and good versus bad.”

violent video games cause violence
Laura and her 8yo son, Toby. Image: Supplied.

Giuliett’s practical suggestions for parents and carers include:

  • Have an honest conversation with your child about your dislike of guns, why they can be so hurtful and the difference between pretend play and real-life.
  • Set clear rules and expectations about their play with weapons - regardless of whether it is guns or swords, etc.
  • Use toys that look like toys (as opposed to real-life replicas).
  • Encourage target practice. Nerf guns are a crowd favourite amongst many children, however, suggesting games where they aim at targets, as opposed to each other can be a great way to encourage safe play.
  • Look out for aggressive and violent themes in a child’s play.

While I will continue to set clear rules around Toby’s use of computer games such as Fortnite as well as be clear about my feelings when he ‘shoots’ Leo’s precious toy panda, I will try not to worry too much.

I feel reassured that Toby, an otherwise bright, thoughtful and loving child, is simply acting out his hero fantasies; but one thing I will demand is that he can start learning to collect up those bloody Nerf bullets.

Does your child like playing war games? Does it worry you or were you the same as a child? Tell us in the comments section below.

We ask Mia Freedman: What's your view on toy guns for kids? This was her response.

Video by MMC
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