Sunday, April 5, 2009

Toy Guns

The press article I chose to read was entitled "Toy Guns: Do They Fan Aggression?" from the New York times. The article discusses the negative affect that toy guns, along with other violent toys such as GI Joe's, may or may not have on the children that play with them. It doesn't so much argue for one side or the other, but rather puts forth the opinions of several professionals in the field of child psychology/psychiatry. Some experts argue that playing with such toys actually fuels the aggressive behavior in children and leaves them more prone to violence in life, wile others believe that a certain level of aggressiveness is normal and necessary for the development of a child. Amongst the later group, there are two differing opinions as well. Some say that the playing of toy guns may in fact increase the level of aggressiveness, albeit by a small amount, and others who say that there is no difference whether or not the children play with toy guns or not. 

One of the people cited in the article was Brian Sutton-Smith, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. The NY Times cites him as believing that the research done on the topic cannot be conclusive due to the small sample size and the subjective definition of aggression. Rather, according to the Times, he claims that what the teachers call "aggressive behavior" is just normal play, especially for young boys, and is integral in the development of normal relationships with peers as well as in the development f a sense of competition. 

I found the article referred to in a database, and after reading it, I dont think that the article misrepresented Smith's thoughts, but rather condensed a fifteen page work into a meager paragraph. One thing from Smith's paper that I found rather interesting and wish that the press article would have dealt with more was his claim that when teachers don't allow children to play with toy guns, the children use other things, such as flashlights, as guns. And furthermore that the children will sort of hide this from their teachers.

This makes me wonder what is so appealing about guns and violence to children. It seems that from a very young age people are attracted to such things. Is it simply because of the media, or is there something more going on in our brains that associates some sort of positive feeling with aggressive behaviors and violence? I think this is a question that has been and continues to be debated. I wonder if we'll ever really know...

  • "Toy Guns: Do They Fan Aggression?" NY Times 16 June 1988.

    Playfighting as Folkplay amongst Preschool Children

  • Brian Sutton - Smith, John Gerstmyer and Alice Meckley
  • Western Folklore, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Jul., 1988), pp. 161-176
  • Published by: Western States Folklore Society


  1. I get that the article advocates for both sides, but what else do they say about both sides? Like, do they explain why or how gun fuels aggressive behavior? I feel like this article isn't really explained very well to me.

    Also, since I don't know who Smith is, I'm not really sure what you're referring to when you talk about his 15 page work.

  2. There will always be two sides in this debate. Personally I am divided, too. I am still hesitant about buying my little boys toy guns. Half of me believes what they play with in childhood will have an effect on how they handle certain things in adulthood. But on the other hand, I know that even if you don't give your kids toy guns, if they turn out psychotic when they are grownups, there's still no stopping them from getting guns and killing people. Oh well.
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