Nov 302007

There have been quite a few posts about toys lately which is only natural since Christmas is only a few days away and our children will be getting toys for Christmas. In our house the situation is always quite extreme because our son’s birthday is a week before Christmas. And though my husband and I try to keep it small there will be toy overkill. But that’s not what I’ve been wanting to write about in this post.

I have been thinking about plastic toys. I’m not particularly fond of plastic toys as such. On the other hand there are plastic toys that I loved when I was a child myself and that I still consider great toys. I’m speaking of LEGO and playmobil.

Last year my son received a huge amount of playmobil cars, a helicopter, a doll house, an ark, animals, and whatnot for his birthday and so I consider the playmobil department overflowing. I don’t think that he really needs more of that. Of LEGO he has quite a bit but only in the duplo size which is aimed at preschoolers. So I broke out the LEGO catalogue, and sat down with my son to see what he would like to have.

Okay, that was a lie. These catalogues are what he is usually “reading” every day. I always deemed this a harmless and nice pastime until about two years ago when I had to rip out all the pages containing bionicles because my son was so scared and fascinated by them that he couldn’t stop talking about them. He still thinks that bionicles are totally cool but I told him they are for bigger children only. So he’s looking forward to his eighth birthday because then he will have horrible black creatures throwing plasma balls and riding monstrous spiders.

Since I have been following these catalogues for a few years I have the impression that there are more and more of these bionicle-like LEGO toys. Do I want my then 5-year-old-son to play with hideous alien monsters of which every single one carries at least two weapons? No.

I feel a bit hypocritical writing this because it was me who gave my son a duplo castle with knights and armored horses and a fire-breathing dragon. I didn’t like the ferocious faces of the dragon knights and the amount of weapons that each single knight came with but in the end it turned out well, my son had the knights cooking meals and sleeping in the castle all of them together, caring for sick horses and the dragon. Mostly.

I know that children’s play has to include aggression, that it’s their way of making sense of the world, and that children everywhere incorporate scenes of conflict and war into their play. I only don’t want to give my son a toy that’s only a weapon. – Says she who gave her son a wooden sword last year. I don’t know what it is but somehow unarmed combat and sword-fighting seem more noble to me than pointing a gun. So far I don’t want any toy guns in the house (nor real ones, of course).

So, back to LEGO. There are several sets aimed at the younger children, most of them things like an airport, a police station, a hospital, and firefighters. And then comes a whole range of really cool sets, and “worlds”, all involving fighting. There are aqua raiders who are obviously doing research underwater. And then all their submarines come with guns, and they have to fight ghastly skeletons and sharks. The thing that I loved at first sight was the “mars mission”. Anything with space ships and astronauts has to be good, hasn’t it? Well, to my son and me anyway. So what do we find? Instead of research there are glowing-in-the-dark aliens and fighting over minerals. Aliens are imprisoned, and there is nothing but fighting between them and humans.

In short, almost every set of LEGO is about fighting and shooting. Apart from the sets that are for children age 12 or older that involve building cars and such. And every single thing about LEGO seems to be about vehicles or machines. And here I was, thinking that LEGO was for building houses.

Playmobil isn’t better, you have lots and lots of pirates fighting, roman soldiers fighting, vikings fighting, knights fighting, you get the picture. Of course, like with LEGO, there are real world sets too, houses, and a zoo, police and such. I probably should be very thankful that all those fighting scenes take place in a sort of fairyland. That there are no real soldiers with real weapons.

So I don’t quite know what to do. While I’m typing this my son is sitting on the floor building a tank out of castle parts. I’m not worried much because he usually quits this kind of play after a short time since he has to care for his pregnant stuffed bunny. But stuffed bunnies are not cool. Deformed machine-like people who let destruction rain on the world obviously are.

Girls, by the way, don’t get to play war. They get the double pink princess-unicorn-fairytale-castle. Where the princess gets everything her heart desires (including the handsome and brave prince) because of her beauty. Which poses another problem.

I know this post is totally ambivalent but that’s because I am too. I only wish that there could be toy sets about research and adventures that didn’t involve killing.

So, how do you feel about this? Anyone with bionicles in the house? Am I over-reacting?

  8 Responses to “Playing War”

  1. I was the first son in the family and I had to beg and plead for years before my mother would buy me a toy gun. Eventually she gave in and stopped worrying about violent toys and I managed to build up an impressive collection. You can be the judge of whether it had a bad effect on my personality or not – I think I turned into a peaceful almost-adult.

  2. No bionicles. None ever. NO GUNS at all. None ever.

    “…pregnant stuffed bunny” that’s funny–my son is currently wearing tap shoes and playing “shopping.”

    Toy guns aren’t about whether or not kids will grow up to be peaceful, it’s about acceptance. Teaching kids at a young age that guns are okay and that war is necessary when neither is true at all.

  3. We’re not at that stage yet, and the kids and I just skip over those pages in the catalogs. I think your observations would be appreciated by the manufacturers.

    Do they work without the weapons? Are they separate parts that you could take away? Because the idea of shape-changing and robotics or whatever is conducive to creative play. I take away the fragile or inappropriate parts of my kids’ toys all the time.

    I had a similar experience recently when I took Fiona to a huge sporting goods store to see the museum-quality dioramas they have displayed. As much as I wanted her to see the animals, I was uncomfortable talking to her about the guns and especially the array of traps. It can be difficult to explain to children who are a little too young to understand that different adults do things that their parents don’t agree with.

  4. Years ago, a relative gave my 4-year-old son a Bionicle and I was a little bit horrified at the strange creature. For a while it languished in my bedroom closet. But now both my boys have played with Bionicles for years, every single day, building and rebuilding them, hours and hours of imaginative play. That 4-year-old is 10 now, his brother is 7, and they STILL play with their Bionicles. My kids are quite peaceful – they cover their faces if there is ever a violent commercial on TV. Their Bionicle games aren’t based on violence. It’s a science fiction thing, which was never my thing, but they like it fine. We also have many Bionicle books, soooo boring to me, but the kids loved them, stories of worlds being threatened and daring rescues, etc. etc. (These are for older kids than yours, I would think.) My older boy would build new models and display them on with elaborate stories of their personas. It’s a good toy.

    I completely understand where you’re coming from but giving your kid a toy weapon does not make him a violent kid. That’s something else completely. Our house is full of light sabers and swords and bats and Bionicles but my boys are peace-lovers, big time. They get that from YOU.

  5. Well, my kids don’t get it from you. Your kid will get it from you, though.

  6. Ugh. I’m in a major violent toy backlash right now. I hate them. I don’t understand why guns are even on the toy aisles. I don’t get any of it.

    I acknowledge that somewhere along the way I’ll give in, but still, I hate it.

  7. At the kindergarten my son and daughter went to, they had a policy of absolutely no “weapons” in the kindergarten. Alex, in my son’s group made quite a stir when he showed up after Christmas with a machine gun type thing. The kindergarten teacher had severe words with the mother about this matter. A few weeks later, Alex showed up with a mini water pistol. Same results. Then he started using the stuff animal elephant and pointing the trunk at other kids and making gun noises. They took away the elephant. A while later I found him running after the kids in the playground, with a t-shaped branch he had ripped off the bush…

    In the end, you have to figure out what you feel comfortable with. My kids were given wooden swords to play knights and pirates with. They were also given water pistols (small) which they were allowed to use in the bath or if they wanted to water the plants with. No shooting people with water. Neither weapons were allowed to be pointed in anyone’s face.

    This might not be very helpful, just wanted to run it by though.

  8. I’m not a big fan of the war toys either! It is getting harder and harder to find toys that aren’t.

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