Monday, November 10, 2008

Toy Guns for Grownups

The battle in gun safety versus gun rights has recently taken yet another turn towards the surreal. It all started when the mayor of New York made it illegal to paint a firearm to make it look like a toy. It seems as though some unsavory types were attempting to disguise weapons by spray painting them to look like a theater prop or toy. It seemed like a reasonable measure. Unfortunately, gun advocates disagreed.

Gun manufacturers, angered by the mayor's new law, have begun to market an in-your-face response: They've begun making real guns that look like toys straight off the assembly line. I kid you not. (And the NRA wonders why safety advocates are so critical of their industry.) What's next guys, child friendly hand grips? These new firearms, painted bright colors and labeled with cheery paint coatings such as "watermelon red" have begun to hit the market. Pistols in hot-rod red, candy apple green, shiny purple, bright yellow, hot pink, and all sorts of other kid-inviting colors are being bought and sold as we speak. Some even have a little cartoon decal on them, meant to mock the mayor but all too similar to something you might find on a toy car or skateboard design. Naturally, this is more than a little concerning to us.

This means a couple things for your children:

1. Police are going to be paranoid, and the odds of an officer mistaking a juvenile prank for an actual threat are greater than ever. It might be a good time to sit down with your children and talk .with them again about the importance of never, ever, ever pointing anything at a police officer. This is especially important for teens. It only takes one playful gesture to turn an ordinary day into a tragedy, and if you've read the news lately, some trigger-happy cops in many areas seem to be having a hard time distinguishing plastic soda bottles or yellow magic markers for firearms as it is.

2. Gun manufacturers might as well have put a ribbon and lollipop on their merchandise along with a sign that says "play with me." To a child (who may or may not know how to distinguish a real gun from a fake gun) these firearms look like they could be water pistols or toy props. They are, by design and intent, made to look like a toy. They're inviting to children. Numerous gun tragedies (perhaps 20-30 percent of those involving children) start out with the same problem: a child finds a gun and assumes it isn't real. They do what they might do with a toy gun...point it at a friend and playfully shoot them. The chances of a child finding one of these new weapons and mistaking it for a toy are substantial, so make sure YOUR child knows that bright colors and a kiddy look doesn't mean its not a real gun. Teach them to never, ever play with a gun or stay around while a friend is playing with a gun. If there's any question at all, don't touch it and find an adult. Take this time to review gun safety with the many resources for children we have available on our website.

Perhaps after a tragedy occurs, gun manufacturers might come to realize that fixing up guns to look like toys wasn't such a good idea. We hope they get their pants sued off in the process. In the meantime, it's a new twist to a long-time threat. Make sure your children are aware of it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Jamie Spears Is Pregnant-What Should I Tell My Child?

Brittney Spears' sister, 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, is pregnant. I know. Shocking, isn't it? How in the world could such a thing happen when ones own sister is such a fine role-model, says you. But alas, it is true. While I fear for this child's well-being for other reasons, (play time with Aunt Brittney, brain damage and seizures induced by the flashes of Paparatzi cameras) it's the teen pregnancy that has the world in an uproar.

You see, Jamie stars in a children's show whose general audience is tweens; 7-12-year-olds for the un-hip. It appears that once again, a Spears has not lived up to parents expectations as a proper role-model. (Hey, at least Jamies not making out with Madonna on national TV...yet).

As can be expected, the innocence police have emerged full force-mouth's agape in shock at the thought of having to talk about that S-E-X word with their kids. Sex: that basic fact of life that kids aren't supposed to know about. Babies come from storks and mommie and daddy were just wrestling-little white lies lest they know about, you

While the 'sexual ignorance=innocence' myth is a popular excuse for avoiding discussions that may be uncomfortable, reality is that children aren't clueless. In actuality, it's quite normal for children to display sexual behavior or engage in sexual play. The fact is that childhood masturbation is common, and all children display curiosity about sex related issues. The fact is that even kindergardeners gossip about it on the playground, or tell dirty jokes behind their parents backs. (Any teacher could fill your ear with story after story of sexual discussions or acting out among their students). The reality is that kids are immersed with sexuality whether you like it or not; it's around them in nature, it's part of their nature, and it's lurking around every corner throughout society. Yet despite these realities of life, some parents still honestly believe that they are doing their children a favor by pretending sex doesn't exist, at least until the child is older. (Mid-forties, perhaps)

Shielding children from knowledge of sexuality isn't preserving their innocence, it's shirking your parental duties. Like drugs, sex should be openly talked about from early on, not postponed until waging hormones and teen rebellion sets in, when your parental influence will have lost much of its power. While alarmists fear that the knowledge of anything sexual will spoil children, the exact opposite is true. In fact, Sigmund Freud, the Godfather of psychology, even went so far as to declare that the suppression of sexual instinct in childhood was the root of all adult neurosis.

Instead of blasting Jamie, parents should be thanking her for the wonderful discussion opportunity. It's times like this which make ideal chances to bridge the gap with your children in talking about sex. Embrace it! Open the discussion, and talk about things like...

-Do you think Jamie has made a good decision?
-How do you think having a baby will change her life?
-Now that she has a child to take care of, what kinds of things won't she be able to do with her friends?
-What kinds of sacrifices and responsibilities are involved in raising a child? Do you think Jamies considered the full-scope of motherhood?

As always, answer their questions honestly and openly. There is nothing about life that kids "can't know about." While it may be a little uncomfortable at first, there is no logical reason you can't talk about sex as openly as you would any other subject in life. Millions of other parents do, and their children are better off because of it. You just need to slowly work through the decades of conditioning that has trained you to feel embarrassed about the subject.

If you'd rather they learn about sex from their peers, or obtain their views on sexuality through the media, then by all means, continue avoiding the subject. Cuss-out Jamie for her assault against your child's innocence. Otherwise, talk openly with your kids about sex every chance you get. Don't look at this whole teen pregnancy episode as a bad thing, but as a valuable learning opportunity.

General references:
1) The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, translated and edited by Dr. A.A. Brill,(1995) Random House: New York
2) Straight Talk, THe pueblo chief tan, (3-25-07) p. E1
3) Normative Sexual Behavior In Children; Friedrich, W.N., Grambush, P., Broughton, D., Kuiper, J., & Beilke, R.L. (1991) Pediatrics, 88, 456-464
4) Gunderson, B.H., Melas, P.S., and Skar, J.E. (1981) Sexual Behavior of Preschool Children: Teachers' Observations. In L.L. Constantine and F.M. Martinson (Eds.), Children and Sex, New Findings, New Perspectives, pp. 45-61, Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company
5) Roberts, E.J., Kline, D., Gagnon, J. (1978) Family Life and Sexual Learning. A Study of the Role of Parents in the Sexual Learning of Children, Cambridge, Mass.: Population Education, Inc.