Psychologist on toy guns: 'Discouraging a behavior may have opposite effect'

The Hamilton Journal-News has published an excellent article by Gregory Ramey, a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at Children's Medical Center of Dayton.

The article concerns parental guidance when it comes to toy guns, and the information he provides is likely to surprise those familiar with the typical anti-gun stance offered by the medical community.

The article begins like this:

    The mother of 5-year-old Drew recently asked me how to discourage her son's "preoccupation with violence." Upon further questioning, she reported that Drew gets along well with his brother, is doing great in school and has lots of friends.

    Her concern focused on the fact that since he was 3 years old, Drew has been fascinated with guns. When he first asked for a toy squirt gun, Mom informed her son that guns were not allowed in their house. She told him how bad and dangerous they were, and cautioned him to never play with them.

    After listening numerous times to his mom's lectures, this little guy did what any typical 5-year-old boy would do. He made a gun out of his Lego blocks. After many reprimands, his mom took his Legos away. This was but a minor inconvenience, as Drew simply walked around his yard until he found the perfect wooden branch that looked like a gun.

    After more lectures and punishment, Drew finally learned to stop using things as guns. When playing cops and robbers, he simply held his hand in the shape of a gun and shot the bad guys. This boy's "preoccupation with violence" was really caused by a well-meaning mom who was unintentionally encouraging the behavior she wanted to stop.

    Mom felt that playing aggressive games with toy guns would lead to violence with real guns. She was wrong. There is absolutely no connection between playing with a water pistol at age 5 and later aggression. My advice to this mom was to buy Drew a toy gun, and then patiently tolerate hours of fantasy play about the good guys shooting the bad guys.

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more.

Ramey goes on to tell readers that "fantasy play among young children is normal and developmentally appropriate. This is a time when children imitate superheroes and take on magical powers. They fly around the room with a cape, dress up in Spider-Man clothes and lift heavy objects with no effort. It's called fantasy and is perfectly normal."

His article then continues:

    Teen violence is a serious issue, but using a toy gun as a child does not cause such problems. Adolescent violence is more related to teens who have poor impulse control, low frustration tolerance and minimal problem-solving skills. Spend more time teaching your child how to deal with real-life problems in a peaceful way rather than being concerned about the toys in the closet.

    I've found that a balanced and moderate approach is usually successful in dealing with most common childhood problems. Parents seem to get into difficulty when they adopt an extreme approach that overemphasizes the behavior they want to discourage. Parents who want to minimize their children playing video games or watching TV may only inadvertently stimulate such interest if they completely prohibit such activities.

    Our influence over our children begins to wane when they first leave home to visit a friend or spend time with a baby sitter. Our job is to prepare them for when we are not there to correct and supervise their behavior. Exposing them to things at home helps them better deal with situations when we are not around.

    Be careful of adopting extreme positions — more often than not, they have the opposite effect of what you intended.

Dr. Ramey's article is likely to ring true to those readers in Dayton who recall an incident involving a 5-year-old boy who accidentally shot his 7 year-old neighbor with a gun they had found in an alley.

After the shooting, the shooter's mother, Marcia Fox, said "I don't know why he was playing with a gun. I don't even allow him to play with guns, water guns, toy guns, anything. Period."

Clearly the extreme position taken by this mother resulted in her child having no idea what to do when he found a gun.

Buckeye Firearms Association agrees with the National Rifle Association and other pro-Second Amendment organizations - children need to be educated in what to do if they find a gun. Unless a parent plans to be in the same room with their child 24/7/365 until they are grown, it is NOT safe to simply pretend firearms don't exist.

The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program is a gun accident prevention program for children in pre-kindergarten through third grade.

A study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing Online (October 2001) named The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program the best of 80 gun accident prevention programs evaluated.

Using instructional materials including workbooks, an animated video, and student reward stickers, the program's safety mascot, Eddie Eagle, teaches children that if they find a gun in an unsupervised situation, they should:

STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.

Would that more children were allowed to be taught by Eddie Eagle, instead of by parents with their heads in the sand.

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