Monday, 1 March 2010

Thoughts on violent play

I hadn't really had to think about violent play until recently. My children (boy and girl) both get very physical and I generally leave them to it unless they're breaking the furniture or really doing my head in. I'm really passionate about free play for children and they need that safety valve. But recently we had a problem with violent play that went too far at our home ed group and so I've been researching into what could go wrong, and found these words in Sue Palmer's 21st Century Boys: How Modern Life Can Drive Them off the Rails and How to Get Them Back on Track: "Critical to this was that the 'gun, fashioned by himself, was his own imaginative construction and could thus become whatever he wanted. A shop-bought toy gun doesn't have that same transformational power. In the words of the major British researcher in this field, Penny Holland, when a child is given a manufactured replica toy, 'the toy determines the play, not the child'. So the problem is not little boys running around shouting 'bang, bang, you're dead' but a society that commercialises every aspect of children's lives."

She goes on to say that this commercialisation means that children are "trapped in a manufacured adult fantasy".

And this is the nub of the matter, I feel. I'm finding Palmer's book very interesting, at least as practical and useful as her earlier Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It which I reviewed a long while back. However, the trouble is, what do you do if you bring your boys (and girls!) up right, don't give them commercialised toys, don't expose them to marketing and junk play, but then they come into contact with others who have been saturated in this kind of rubbish? My boy isn't so easily influenced thankfully, purely because he doesn't seem to be your stereotypical boy, but in a group setting when the oldest and those looked up to as role models are trapped in the commericalised adult fantasies, it skews the whole group dynamics and means that trusting that free play will be safe and fair cannot be done. Which is a shame.


Big mamma frog said...

also worth checking out 'we don't play with guns here'
I know it's not exactly what you've been talking about, but might be a different angle. I've only managed to read exerpts so far, but basically it's research criticising how society and political correctness has demonised boys' imaginative play. E.g. boys aren't allowed to make guns in preschools (because we interpret it in an adult context - bad/violent/aggressive), but it's ok for girls to have - e.g. - magic wands that can do all sorts of nasty things to their recipient. As a result of this ongoing disapproval then boys engage in less and less imaginative play and become more and more suppressed in what to them is just natural childish behaviour ...etc.

My eldest son stopped drawing for months after a preschool worker told him he wasn't allowed to draw guns on his spitfire. grrr.

And as for rough play. I think it's an important part of learning boundaries and limits, and working out resolutions to social situations. I used to worry about my boys being rough with each other and other children, but having spoken to someone who was a mother of boys (of a similar age) and an experienced childminder she persuaded me to chill about it and step back and let them work it out for themselves. So we used to get the kids together and let them do just that!

Sometimes my kids have gone too far with each other, and on occasions with other children. But usually I've found if parents step back and give the children space then groups of children, well HE children anyway, tend to self-policed/self-regulate the 'violent' play. What can look quite nasty behaviour to an outsider is - on closer examination - something that both parties involved are agreeable to. The only issues we've had are when new children come into the group (particularly those who have just come out of school). There may be some adjustment while the new child learns the - often unspoken -rules of the group. Quite often the new children haven't worked out the boundaries, or have issues left from school that haven't been resolved. Sometimes then a parent needs to step in and intervene.

ok..think I've rambled enough now!

Liz said...

Well, yes, this is why I don't want to ban guns, swords or very boisterous play, but we did have a serious incident which was not consensual and not acceptable so we've sadly had to make some changes to ensure it doesn't happen again. And that has had to restrict freedom of play which I'm very sad about.

I'll see if I can get hold of that book you mention. I guess you can't always trust to the kids to sort things out and police themselves, especially if they've been really immersed in the consumer culture.

Really tricky issue.

bethnoir said...

It's really interesting to hear how you're thinking about these issues. We have deliberately not bought premade guns and weapons for the boys, but they make their own out of lego and sticks from the woods when they want them for imaginative games.

I do intervene with violent play sometimes, purely because my little one is much smaller and I worry about him getting hurt, but I will try leaving them and seeing what happens. I know they play violent games at school, but they are consensual in the main and bones don't get broken!