Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Last Child Without a Gun

Have you heard about the book “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv? The book suggests that some of the attention deficit problems many of our children are facing are at least partially caused by a lack of exposure to nature. My son's teachers have kindly suggested that we need all the attention help we can get, so I’ve been trying to encourage unstructured outdoor play. Except now, my kids are not content to stay in my backyard. Some months ago, not long after I started this blog, I wrote about how freaked out I was by the idea of letting my (rather impulsive daredevil) son go “down the hill” to play in the cul-de-sac at the other end of our street where I couldn’t see him. Soon it became clear that what I really feared was a curve in the road that creates a blind spot preventing those going down from seeing oncoming traffic.

We finally reached a compromise and my son agreed to get off and walk his bike where the “blind” area begins on the street.

Soon after we allowed him this freedom, I was relieved to find that he and the neighborhood boys have formed their own little tribe. What’s nice about their tribe is that they are of mixed age. My son is 8 and is among the youngest and the oldest is in his first year of middle school. The tribe goes from house to house. They climb trees, go sledding, play basketball and hide and seek, ride skateboards and raid refrigerators. Today my son announced. “We’re building a clubhouse.”

Great, I thought. What a nice, old-fashioned, wholesome activity. Kinda like the Little Rascal’s He-Man Woman Haters Club. (Except the tribe accepts girls. They even let my daughter, who is better on the Rib-stick than any of them, hang out with them when she wants to.)

Then he said “and then we’re gonna get some BB guns and shoot anyone who comes near it!”

The S. man and I have tried to stick to our guns about not acquiring any weapons as playthings. Still, when we were in New Mexico, and we allowed him to pick out a souvenir, he begged for tomahawks and bow and arrows. In every toystore he goes straight to the plastic tommy guns. And I probably don’t need to tell you what he designed himself from Legos and sticks. (And is it any wonder that the Strong National Museum of Play has inducted the stick into its Toy Hall of Fame?)

Well, what do you think? I think he’ll shoot his eye out!


tut-tut said...

I think it's most important to allow kids some autonomy. Although hard to follow through on, I know . . .

I don't have any boys around here (well, one, but he doesn't really count), but I do know that a friend who has a son said that even without any other stimuli, the first time he picked up a stick as a tiny child, he pointed it gun-like. So maybe it's eidetic. Or something.

Joanne said...

Kudos to you for the Tribe. I remember your post last summer, and still maintain it's best to let kids be kids. Yours are checking in house to house, and I'm sure parents are monitoring unseen from inside, keeping an eye out. What great imagination this type of play promotes, as well as sweet memories.

Karen said...

That's so awesome! I wish I had that degree of flexibility and confidence... maybe when she's 8 I will try to remember your post and have more trust that things will be OK if she's out of my sight. We had so much more freedom as kids than a lot of our kids do. Kudos to you for letting go a little so he can develop his own sense of judgment! Sorry about the gun thing, that's a tough one. I got that book but haven't read it yet. We need to fix up our backyard to make it more play-friendly. Yet another project I don't seem to be getting to!

spookydragonfly said...

I so enjoyed reading this post. I'm at the grandparent stage in my life, and I'm worse now as far as worrying than when my own children were young. It seems that with each new generation comes a whole new set of worries...or am I JUST GETTING OLD?!

Lorilee said...

I think boys are wired to play guns. My oldest (23) loves medieval weapons such as longbows and swords. I grew up playing Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with my brother. I even had my own toy 6 shooter with my own special holster!

LazyMom said...

Kids just love guns. Let's be honest...they are fun. I had a party for The Beast and one of the games was "Vaccinating" the stuffed monkey of your choice...with a cork shooting carnival rifle.

The horror on the poor Artsy-Fartsy parents when they arrived to see their children with the "vaccination gun" was...Priceless.

Of course the children quickly explained--"oh we are not "killing" them we are "vaccinating" them.
It made ALL the difference.

Squirrel said...

I tried the "no toy guns" rule with my son, so he and his friend (who was also deprived of a toy gun) ripped the legs off of a Barbie Doll and pointed them at people and squirrels, pretended they were guns. They also pretended that sticks were guns, but somewhere I have a photo of him pointing a Barbie Leg at the camera, squinting like Black Bart.

Anonymous said...

Worry worry worry...and my kids are in their late 20's. I'm still worrying. I remember the whole going down to the next cul-de-sac to play thing. It was so scary but I gave out the rules too. They have survived and loved their childhood. They played outside a lot and have very vivid imaginations. So you are doing a good job and being brave. Big hugs to ya as your little one learns how to be brilliant in this world.

JGH said...

Tut, I've been wondering if it's just boys that do this. I've heard the same thing from lots of mothers of boys.

Joanne - I HOPE the other moms are keeping an eye out, but that's the problem, I really don't know for sure...

Karen -there's also an argument for making the front yard more play-friendly since it encourages neighbors to visit. Mike Lanza's Playborhood blog is a good resource for ideas.

Spooky, I'll never forget when my boss told me right after my first child was born that now I would never stop worrying-- and she was right!

Lorilee - you gotta find a photo of yourself with the holster, etc. I bet you were pretty cute.

Lazymom, vaccinations are pretty controversial around her! I'm surprised you got away with that

Squirrel, the Barbie Leg story is hysterical!! I can just picture it.

Anna, thanks for the encouragement. Glad to hear your kids have emerged unscarred from trial by cul-de-sac.

Pam J. said...

What do I think? (a) I think your son is adorable. (b) And I think that kids playing with toy weapons is harmless (and essentially unstoppable). What isn't harmless is kids watching random and virtual violence on TV, in movies, and in video games. That neighborhood tribal thing he's got going is wonderful. He's learning all the life lessons he needs right there in that group.

Anonymous said...

Here's a book you might like:

Best Hikes With Children in the Catskills and Hudson River Valley
by Cynthia C. Lewis

JGH said...

Pam, thanks. It is just amazing how the most violent gut-wrenching movies (like Dark Knight) can be rated PG-13 and some that show a little tasteful nudity (like "I Capture the Castle") are rated R.

Anon, thanks for the book recommendation! There's a bookstore on the Palisades Parkway Visitor Center that has an amazing collection of local books. I'll look for this one.

Avid Reader said...

I watched all those Warner Bros cartoons and theThree Stooges beating the crap out of each other- (especially when Moe uses Curly's head to hammer in a nail to help a little old lady fix up her old hotel) - at some point (age 4?) you realize it's all pretend-- I was never a violent person but I still like watching that crap! (not daily, but... ) I likes it.