Children and violent toys

By Drum Digital
17 March 2015

We all grew up with popular games in which the good were up against the evil. It was either cowboys against Indians or cops against robbers. In these scenarios the hero or heroine always brandished arms to fearlessly protect themselves.

WE ALL grew up with popular games in which the good were up against the evil. It was either cowboys against Indians or cops against robbers. In these scenarios the hero or heroine always brandished arms to fearlessly protect themselves.

But when kids play with lethal weapons such as knives and guns, what impact does this have on their behaviour in the long term?

“Kids use toys to express their emotions,” explains Retha Kruger, an educational psychologist of Cape Town. “In everyday life they see things they want to portray – but because they still lack the language skills, they use toys for this purpose.”

These toys very often include dangerous weapons. But what can parents do if they’re concerned that this play may have a negative impact on their kids behaviour?

“A child who plays with guns definitely won’t automatically develop behaviour problems or one day start showing violent tendencies,” Retha reassures parents. “But it is a fact that violent games, especially computer games, do make children more aggressive,” she adds.

A simple solution would be to limit your children’s exposure to violence in computer games and on television. “Parents don’t always realise how much violence there is in cartoons and even in animated movies. Age restrictions must definitely be heeded.” Take the example of the iconic Tom and Jerry animated TV series in which Jerry regularly blows up Tom and Tom in turn goes out of his way to wipe out Jerry.

'But it is a fact that violent games, especially computer games, do make children more aggressive.'

“Children learn behaviour from what they see happening around them and they model what they see,” Retha explains. “Naturally they’ll take a liking to superheroes that give them the feeling that – like Spiderman and Superman – they too can save the day.”

In playing children will then also employ destructive weapons to express their ideas of how a superhero behaves as accurately as possible.

“Children don’t distinguish between reality and fantasy like adults,” Retha says. “They just see a superhero dealing with a thug. The superhero uses a weapon and that’s why they also want to use a weapon.”

But what should parents do? “Like everything else children’s exposure to violence should definitely be controlled,” Retha says. “If you saw your child waving around a weapon or acting in a violent way, then you have to step in.”

Ask your child where they saw this behaviour and why they’re doing it. “Children get so involved being a character that they sometimes don’t realise what they’re doing.”

The more a child is exposed to violence the more it will affect them, Retha stresses. She suggests that parents watch cartoons with their children to make sure that the violence depicted in films doesn’t have an unforeseen effect on them.

“Parents can of course also limit their children’s access to violent toys and let them play with blocks or animal toys instead. You can use art, drawing or role-play to help children express themselves. ”

Are boys more inclined to violent play than girls? “Most of the heroes kids see on television are men which is why boys tend to copy that behaviour more than girls,” Retha says.

Girls react differently, she believes, because in the cartoons aimed at them, for example the Barbie series, violence seldom features.

It’s advisable that parents maintain a balanced approach and monitor the amount of violence their kids are exposed to. “It won’t really help for parents to ban violent toys altogether because the child will then just use a banana as a gun. Rather try introducing other toys as well so children can express their emotions more effectively,” Retha says.

-Petrus Malherbe

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