The Nerf Gun Dilemma

January 8, 2013, Parenting Success Network

In our efforts to make the winter holiday “ifree” and “electronic-free” our family gave and received a variety of creative and memorable toys and gifts. Some of my personal favorites are the games, craft kits, and framed pictures. Both my husband and I have especially enjoyed taking a walk down memory lane and thinking of some of our favorite gifts from childhood– you might remember some of them if you enjoyed play before the mass marketing of console-based and handheld computer games. Yes, I am talking about “throwback”  or “old-school” toys. Well, whatever we call them, here are some of our favs: the Big Wheel, Life (the board game), the Easy-Bake Oven, Leggos, marbles, pick-up sticks and the simple balsa wood airplane that comes (almost) ready to go, with all the pieces. Growing up, my sisters and I got one of those airplanes in our stocking every year. Of course, it never lasted longer than Christmas day, but it was, by far, one of our favorite gifts. In fact, I still look forward to putting it together and flying it until it breaks, about 2 hours or so. One of my husband’s favorite gifts was the Nerf gun he got when he was seven years old. Like the balsa wood airplane, the Nerf gun provided him and his sisters with hours of strategic, imaginative, and energetic  fun. So, what did our kids find in their stockings on Christmas morning? Three balsa wood airplanes and three Nerf Guns. Imagine that!!!

The airplanes were a hit. They lasted less than the usual 2 hours. Probably because the wings barely survived the assembly process. But what wonderful fun they had while it lasted. Much more fun than a video game, in my opinion. And the Nerf guns were a HUGE hit as well. At least for the kids. As I watched my children run around the house pelting each other and various pieces of furniture with those orange foam sticks, I couldn’t help but wonder if this “play” was desensitizing them to gun violence. They were aiming (with surprising amounts of accuracy) at each other, laughing, running, dodging foam “bullets” and screaming “I got you! You’re dead!”. I just couldn’t help but picture the children of Sandy Hook Elementary and how they might have tried to dodge the real bullets during the horrific tragedy of December 2012. I fully understand that this event is still extremely difficult to process and, at times, to talk about, but I think it’s worth considering when we open our homes to certain media, toys, and various other imagery that impacts our children. After the fun (for my children) but troubling (for me) Nerf gun battle had gone on for a while I couldn’t stand it any longer and I directed my children toward another, more soothing (at least for me) activity. We baked holiday sugar cookies together. And as we rolled out the dough, we talked about why mommy asked them to take a break from the “Nerf  war”. It was this discussion that made it all worth it. I took the opportunity to talk to my children about gun violence and how playing with Nerf guns can be fun but playing with real guns can be deadly. Knowing that they understood my concern by the end of the conversation gave me peace of mind, so that now I can watch them play “Nerf war” with less reservations. And they better watch out because mom might be hiding around the corner with her very own Nerf gun, ready to join in the fun.