I cleaned our playroom this past weekend. The daunting task took me several hours. I reassembled puzzles, reunited Go Fish, Old Maid and Memory cards in their respective packages, found missing game pieces and remote controls, and sorted match box cars and action figures into organized bins. I was also able to chuck a bunch of happy meal prizes and broken toys. I even discovered my long lost spatula and missing shower squeegee.
What I wasn’t expecting to reveal was how many toys in our playroom promote violence. I was well aware of our light sabers, water guns, and pirate swords, because we play with them on a daily basis. But I was taken aback when I realized nearly every action figure is equipped with a weapon. From the Power Rangers to G.I. Joe to Star Wars figures, each has their own weapon.
While my first thought was "WOW, it’s clear that no girls play here," I was shocked by the fact that so many toys promoted aggression. And that’s not something I was proud of.
I’ve never allowed my boys to play violent video games. We don’t watch movies that are not family rated. And we don’t own a gun. So how is it that my boys have accumulated an entire bin of little tiny guns and swords?
I considered taking them away, but what would that do? My son plays Power Rangers with his friends at school. He enjoys a good light saber battle with his father on a daily basis. Even my 19-month-old will grab a light saber or pirate sword and fight with it.
I kept thinking why are traditional girl and boy toys so different?
Most girls nurture dolls, play princess dress-ups and have imaginative conversations with their Barbie dolls. While boys build block towers that they topple with remote control cars, fight with swords, and portray violent scenes with their action figures.
Why such a difference?
I was happy that some of our toys elicit imaginative play and creative thinking. But I find myself questioning how to handle their action figures.
I used to take the small pieces away when we would purchase an action figure, which basically meant removing weapons and accessories. But when my oldest started collecting Star Wars figures he already knew from the movies which figures had guns and which had light sabers, and he wanted to keep those pieces. And I acquiesced and let him have them.
But during this past clean up, it became blatantly obvious that not only are my kids exposed to violence, they tend to play aggressively with eachother. Is it a boy thing?
So why do boys and girls play so differently? And why do boys gravitate to toys that promote violence or fighting, where girls tend to nurture dolls or pretend play with a kitchen set?
My youngest is barely talking but hand him a truck and he will vroom vroom it across the floor or give him a dinosaur and it will roar and attack other dinosaurs. Hand him a doll and he will toss it on the floor.
It’s almost a nature vs. nurture question. And certainly one I don’t have an answer to. I don’t think I treat my boys differently. I hug and kiss them, and do all the nurturing things a mother does. So where does this innate tendency towards violence come from?
I may never have the answer, but I certainly may think more closely about the toys I purchase.
What do you think about how boys and girls play differently?