The Children's Toy Gun Debate: Are They Violent or Symbolic Play?

The Children’s Toy Gun Debate: Are They Violent or Symbolic Play?

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With summer comes colored pistols and submachine guns that are filled with water to alleviate the heat. Being the only shots that refresh, some families wonder what is in them game and what internalization of violence. Not only because of these toys, but also because of swords or tanks, among others, and because of some video games that sometimes have teenagers absorbed. Óscar Casado is a doctor in Education and author, along with Beatriz Castro, of autonomous children (Current Platform, 2022). Casado explains that the fact that boys and girls willingly want to play with swords or guns may be caused by an idyllic image of the warrior, hero or heroine they want to become. “This a priori It does not have to be bad, however, when that representation or image is associated with the indiscriminate use of the weapon as fun to kill, assassinate… it runs the risk of contributing to internalizing or trivializing a way of relating to others that is not appropriate for our society.”

Beatriz Castro, the other author of autonomous children and specialist teacher in Therapeutic Pedagogy, ensures that the function of symbolic play, which is what children do when they play to imitate actions of adults, is a fundamental tool for learning. “It is a training that prepares them to learn better how to be older. It is a game full of meaning and functionality for them. Playing kitchens, moms and dads, races, shops… develops in them images of themselves that reinforce their self-esteem and abilities”, explains the expert. Although Casado wonders: “What is the point of promoting this type of symbolic game when precisely that imitated behavior is not something that is going to be useful in your life?”

Casado explains that there are many different ways of playing that are not at risk of becoming dangerous, as he considers it could be in this case. “Why precisely encourage one of the few that does? Why buy guns, swords, bombs or shotguns when sometimes they haven’t even asked for them? ”, He questions. For his part, Castro assures that if the child spontaneously shows an affinity for this type of game, there is no need to worry either. “We have to act naturally to try to understand what meaning he gives him, and what he looks for or finds in these types of games,” he says. And he proposes that if we observe signs that this leads to violence without further ado, “less violent alternatives can be proposed so that his choices progressively move away from this type of behavior.”

The teacher and specialist in Therapeutic Pedagogy affirms that neither video games nor playing with guns normalize violent behavior. To which Casado adds: “The problem is not in the game or the video game, but in the person who uses them.” To explain this, the expert provides an example: “A video game, however violent it may be, in the hands of a teenager with a well-ordered head does not pose a risk, because he knows how to distinguish reality from fiction. However, in the hands of a mentally challenged teenager or simply a very young child who has difficulty differentiating what is real and what is not, it is a serious danger.”

In something that the authors of autonomous children is that homeschooling is essential. “When we see that they play to fight, instead of laughing at them thanks or letting them continue doing it because it is playing, we have to make them see that, although it is a game, it still has real consequences and they could hurt themselves,” adds Castro. For the teacher, this explanation to the children helps them “to understand that reality and fiction are sometimes very close, so that, if they are already verifying that the game itself causes undesirable consequences, they will have less desire to reproduce it in reality” . The key is to make them reflect on what happened, since it always helps to have a better understanding of the world around them.

Educate in complexity (Current Platform, 2022) is the book published by the teacher and researcher Juan Fernández. His work as a disseminator tries to address educational issues from scientific research. When asked if there is any evidence that playing with weapons increases violent tempers, the answer is no. “Studies have shown over and over again that violent games and video games have no detectable effect,” he says. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget already stated in the 20th century that play “is the work of childhood”, and for Juan Fernández it is precisely in childhood when one begins to conceive that there is a self, and that this self will die sometime. “Therefore, playing with death is also a way of trying to dominate it. However, a moral development must also occur in parallel: is it okay to kill another person? ”, He questions. “Ultimately, it’s about opening the way to the possibility that the other also feels and thinks,” adds the expert.

Fernández has a web page called Educational Research that has become one of the references in the field of Education in Spanish. The expert assures that pretend play is important for cognitive development in the early years of learning “since it helps children to reflect and regulate their own cognitive behavior, as well as to obtain a deeper understanding of the mind.” So he proposes to replace forms of leisure that are generally “passive and egocentric” with alternative forms that are “inclusive and socially relevant”, he clarifies. Fernández considers that in the game we have a unique opportunity to learn to relate to each other.

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