Almost 7 years ago, when my daughter was 3 and a half , I gave birth to my son. And almost immediately the comments about how ‘boys are different – you’ll find out soon enough’ started. Well, yes. He does have penis. And when baby boys pee while you’re changing their diaper, the effect is quite a bit more dramatic than when baby girls pull the same stunt.
But having a penchant for peeing like a fountain doesn’t mean that we have to dress him in green camo during the day and superhero sleepers at night. And we didn’t. We had a home full of all kinds of toys – dolls, stuffies, cars and construction toys. He wore a collection of hand-me-down clothing, including (horrified gasp!) pink sleepers. And we made a decision way back when our daughter was born, that we would not have weapons or weapon play in the home – especially when the children were young. We didn’t decide we would never allow it, but we felt it was something that was not suitable for young children. This was something that became an issue when we had a boy. Understand, it wasn’t an issue for us. It was an issue for other people.
Some argued that there was nothing wrong with weapon play. Some argued that it’s just something boys have to do. That if you don’t buy them swords and guns, they make them. Some said that they had hoped to have a weapon free home but had to give up. It’s just not possible, they sadly shrugged.
But we believed that it is wrong and we did not relent. It is not easy but it is possible. Here’s what we did.
We made sure that they did not see weapons. It took quite a while for these things to be invented and we don’t believe that children invent them out of pure air. They are mimicking behaviour. It’s my job to not expose my children to behaviour I do not want mimicked.
It’s a relatively easy process:
• no TV. That means no TV for kids or the adults.
• only carefully pre-screened videos
• no toy weapons in the home, not even primary colored water pistols!
• if given an inappropriate present, accept it if politeness demands it, and then throw it out
• no superheroes
• no violent stories in which weapons are used
• no violent computer games (actually, pretty much NO computer games, but that’s a different topic)
• no exposure to violence, not even hockey or martial arts, or other socially sanctioned violent activities
• no visiting with friends who play with weapons
OK. It isn’t really easy. Especially that last one. But when you really believe it, you do it.
Secondly, if they did somehow see inappropriate behaviour and try to mimic it, I told them very quickly that it’s not how we play. I simply don’t allow mimicking of that kind of behaviour. It’s no different than if they saw someone ‘giving the finger’ and tried it. Or swearing. Or playing with fire. Sorry, nope, not gonna happen here. Not when you’re this age. I might reconsider later.
I kept the children ‘sheltered’ for a long time; they didn’t even know the word for ‘sword’ until about age 5. And then when they were old enough to ask about why we didn’t have those things, they were mature enough to understand that I had serious moral objections to playing at killing. I could explain that these items are not toys, they are pretend tools for killing and we don’t agree with that type of play. It’s much tougher to have that conversation with a 3 year old; that’s why I believe it’s better to just keep it out of their realm.
They’re older now and they have heard and read about wars and killing and murder. We are studying history (following the classical education model) and after all much of history is just one big battle. But they do not need to play at war any more than they need to play at burning witches or Roman orgies.
I know that we are in many ways extreme. But I am always curious where other people draw the line. So, it’s ok in your home to play pirates or cops and robbers. OK. What about KKK? What about lynch the black person? Or how about, let’s play concentration camp? Well, why not? It’s just play, isn’t it? See, I believe that these are not suitable ways for young children to play. The games they play not only reflect the family’s morals and values, they help create the child’s morals and values.
Then there is my husband’s argument. If it’s ok to ‘just play’ at killing, why don’t we let them ‘just play’ at sex? Sex is pervasive in our culture too. A child without strict limits on TV has probably seen lots of sexy videos and suggestive commercials. Billboards on city bus stops recently ran a pretty racy lingerie campaign. So if children start strutting like strippers, imitating some MTV star, and rubbing up against each other, we should just throw up our hands and say ‘well, it’s everywhere – what can you do?’
I have always believed that differences between men and women are subtle, and that gender is a spectrum. (you can test your brain’s gender here) In several areas, I have characteristics associated with maleness. (no, it’s not facial hair!)
There are obvious inherent traits and personality differences between people. But when it comes to the nature/nurture debate, I believe it’s about 15% nature/85% nurture. Fundamentally I believe that parents matter, that the environment children are raised in matters, that the kind of nurturing children receive matters & that all these things matter more than hormone levels in the brain.
Some interesting research on anger in men seems to support the nurture argument. Scientists believe that aggression in men is related to testosterone levels. Women with higher testosterone levels also tend to be more aggressive. But there are some men, which no matter how much testosterone you give them, do not act inappropriately. Others seem to lash out even though they have relatively low testosterone.
We still have a weapons free home and you won’t find the children shooting at things or sword-fighting with sticks. They know about it, they have seen pictures, have seen a mock swordfight in a film (the wonderful "Sense and Sensibility"). We are very, very gradually relaxing our controls on this issue. But don’t expect to see Doom at our home anytime soon.