This post is totally inspired by my soon to be three year old little man. His very most favorite things in the whole entire world (other than Chick-Fil- A of course) are super heroes and anything else that can fight and look cool doing so. Ethan has always had big kids as role models, so I am not sure that action figures and plastic weapons should even be a debate in my crazy brain at this particular stage. However, at this precious age he is turning into a quasi ninja with hints of MMA Superstar. This brings me to the moral dilemma. Can we manage the behavior and guide this him down a path that will teach him to be the kind and compassionate man that we hope he will grow into? Or, do we pack the extensive collection of action figures, including Daddy’s old He-man collection into a box for a few more years.
The Pros and Cons of Super Heroes and Sword Fighting
On the positive side, these questionable toys open up to us a whole universe of dramatic play; play that is based in far-away places, in times that have long past and more often than not, play that lies in a future that holds so many possibilities that is impossible to imagine them all. Ethan is immensely creative. With Nerf sword in hand he can often be found engaged in battles with dragons or ninjas in an attempt to protect his castle or princess (usually Mommy or Maya) from certain death. Since receiving the coolest Double Light Saber ever, Ethan and his daddy can frequently be found chasing each other around the house. Ethan protects the world from the “Dark Side” and Daddy displays his Jedi skills by twirling the glowing light sabers, it glows and makes swooshing sounds when twirled around. Both, my big boy and my little boy usually end up in a pile cracking up and snuggling. It seems that with such creativity and joy resulting from these toys it would be shameful to pack them away. In addition, the issue of relevance comes into consideration. However, heartbreaking it may be to consider, the other kids in his peer group will be talking, playing, and living with these characters. In order to be considered relevant and fit in, he will need some background knowledge of the topics. (cop out, I know!)
It is the violent flip side of the argument that tends to make me worry. When not saving the world with his energy and creativity, Ethan uses the action figures to act out what he thinks they are supposed to be doing. The figures crash and fight in his little hands. Harsh dialogs come spewing out of his tiny mouth. Never should I hear a two, almost three year old say the words “I am going to kill you.” Other times, the influence shows itself in a more public way. Why, just this morning Ethan landed a strong right-hook to his sister’s lower lip, causing minimal blood and a whole bunch of tears. I am sure the shoppers on the other side of the Super Target could hear the crying. In a poor parenting moment, I turned my back to my crying daughter for just a second so that I would not laugh. Seriously though, not even thirty seconds prior, I had asked her for what seemed like the millionth time to please keep her hands to herself. I gained my composure and knelt to tend to the wounded. When I had Maya calmed, I asked Ethan why he had punched his sister in the mouth. He simply stated, “She was being bad to me.” This unkind behavior that makes me cringe and rethink the action figure/super hero debate.
The Television Influence
I understand the influence that television can have on kiddos, especially the little ones. My little guy loves the idea of “good vs. evil” and the predictability of a story in which the “good guy” always win. We do not allow either of our kids to watch cartoons that focus on violence. We live more in the realm of Super Why, Word World, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and other educational and light hearted cartoons. My personal favorite is Backyardigains. Anyway, back on track, in moments of personal indulgence, I have to confess that we have seen and own both “Despicable Me” and “Megamind”. In my own defense, we have discussed at length how both of the “villains” in these two movies start out bad and learn to be kind, which is the focus of both films, not the fighting.
That brings me back to the dilemma of having to choose between managing and guiding the play, or boxing the toys until later. I think we will probably continue to try and avert disaster by setting good examples, modeling love in our home, and learning by consequence. My husband and I are trying every day (some day’s we do a better job than others) to actively set good examples and guide our kids towards being successful and kind human beings. Parenting is a twisted maze which we navigate together, with the hopes that when we exit the maze we will do so with happy hearts knowing that we have given our children the tools they need for life.