I have two boys, aged five and seven and my seven year old has just been invited to a birthday party for one of his classmates. The theme: “Wild West”. All well and good I thought – in my mind thinking along the lines of ‘Toy Story’.
But then at school today the Birthday-boy’s Mum starting telling me about all the preparations they’ve made, including the plan to transform their backyard into a battle zone, and a box of cap guns, spud shooters and water pistols for the boys to use. In other words, twelve small boys running around with guns for the afternoon.
The thing is though – our home has a very strict “no toy weapons” policy. Not just about not having them at home, but also not playing with them elsewhere, either. There are plenty of healthy, positive ways for kids to use up their energy without imitating violence. So my issue is – do I say: “Sorry, no, you can’t go to the party” or do I let him go, even though I know he will be doing something that we don’t allow at home? What would other parents do?
It’s sad to think that there are families in 2010 who would be throwing that sort of party for their young children.
Wow – that’s a real “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, isn’t it! It’s not something that I’ve ever had to deal with personally, so I have asked the advice of psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg. Michael is a founding member of the National Centre Against Bullying. He is a columnist for Girlfriend Magazine, Australian Doctor and he is a regular on Radio 3AW. This is his take on your situation:
“It is certainly a vexed issue and it’s sad to think that there are families in 2010 who would be throwing that sort of party for their young children,” he says. “That said it is actually a great teaching situation for you and your son.”
Kathleen, Michael’s advice is to explain, not ban. “I definitely would not be banning your son from going to the party, because if all the kids in the class have been invited then it’s not worth risking his social alienation by not going,” he explains. “It is a good opportunity though to explain to your son that this is a values issue; that some families don’t mind their children playing violent games and that some families do. That doesn’t make families good or bad, it simply comes down to their personal values.”
That’s not a free-for-all invitation though; Michael stresses the importance of sticking to your own personal values no matter what the situation around you. “Give your child some strategies for participating in the games in a way that he can have fun, but without violent role playing,” says Michael. A peacekeeper role perhaps, or helping to set up the obstacle course? It could be a good opportunity for your son to learn how to say a confident “no, thanks”.
EB Readers: What would your strategy be in the same situation? Comment on Justine's blog.