Understanding Aggressive Toys
is exciting - its fun and it stimulates imagination. It also teaches
children social skills such as co-operation and self-control, something
all parents are keen to see. Toys help develop mental and physical
skills by stimulating and prolonging play.
Mothers are sometimes shocked when their sons, or
even their daughters - some as young as two years old - ask for a toy
gun or action figure. Action Man. Ninja Turtles. Power Rangers. Masters
of the Universe. Video games with martial arts themes. These toys are
popular; about 70 percent of boys and 35 percent of girls play with toy
weapons at home. These toys are also controversial.
Some parents worry about children playing aggressive
games or playing with toy weapons. Others say that aggressive play and
pretend fighting with toys are all part and parcel of children learning
appropriate behaviour. The debate will no doubt go on. Perhaps the
following information will help you, as a parent, to make up your mind
about what is best for your child.
IS IT REAL OR PRETEND?
Pretending to be aggressive is not the same as being
aggressive. Aggressive behaviour is the intention to harm another
person. Aggressive play includes make-believe fighting and
rough-and-tumble, which has no intention to injure anyone. Aggressive
toys or war toys are those that children use in play fighting and
fantasy aggression. These include toys that resemble weapons and action
According to the latest research, toy weapons and
violent video games stimulate aggressive play but have no effect on
aggressive behaviour. There is no evidence linking aggressive toys to
childrens attitudes toward war or violence. For nearly all children who
engage in it, aggressive play is exciting, active, and fun, full of
fantasy and imagination.
While adults may sometimes confuse real and pretend
fighting, research shows that children as young as five are able to tell
the difference between real aggression, which frightens them, and
aggressive play, which they see as harmless fun. Childrens experience of
actual aggression in the home has much more influence on them than a toy
- however fond of the toy they may be.
Contrary to what you may think, only a small minority
of toys are action figures and toy weapons (8.1% and 1% respectively)
and video games with violent themes (6%).
Toy weapons today look increasingly life-like and this is a worry to
some parents. The toy industry in Britain has adopted a policy of
identifying toy guns with a brightly coloured plug in the gun barrel, so
they will not be mistaken for real weapons.
BOYS R US: SEX DIFFERENCES IN AGGRESSIVE PLAY
By age two, and sometimes evident as early as one
year of age, boys and girls tend to play differently and prefer
different playthings. Boys prefer traditional "boys toys" and
girls tend to prefer "girls toys" (although girls are more
flexible about this). .
Although elaborate efforts are sometimes made to prevent children from
playing with war toys, nevertheless a sizeable percentage of boys and a
surprising number of girls play with aggressive toys. Studies in
Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the USA all report that
about 60-75% of boys and about one-third of girls play with aggressive
toys at home.
WHY DO CHILDREN PLAY WITH TOY GUNS?
No one is really sure whether the differences between
boys and girls play are learned or inborn. Aggressive play has a
biological basis, and is also influenced by the childs experiences.
Activity levels tend to be higher in boys. As a result they prefer toys
that lend themselves to highly active play. One undeniable feature of
aggressive play is its high level of activity, with running, chasing,
and make-believe fighting, complete with sound effects.
The childs surroundings also influence aggressive play. Children in war
zones often play war games, not only in imitation of the adults around
them, but also as a means of coping with anxiety, fear and loss. Parents
and grandparents who have traditional attitudes about sex-roles tend to
buy boys toys for boys and traditional girls toys for girls. The toys
purchased for children and grandchildren reflect the attitudes and
prejudices of the adults who purchase them and not necessarily those of
the children who receive them. Adults who purchase so-called violent
toys do not see them as violent, but as toys.
The toy is an intermediary between the child and the world. It is the
family environment far more than the toy that is the key factor in the
childs character. Children become aggressive when their parents are
aggressive or when they allow aggression to go unpunished.
WHATS A PARENT TO DO?
Kids need active rough and tumble play. Ensure that
play is safe by providing a suitable place and plenty of time for active
play. Provide children with a range of toys intended for active play -
not just toys for fantasy aggressive play, but also playground
equipment, slides, swings, balls, skates.
Some parents let their children play with brightly coloured water guns,
but not more realistic toy guns. Some restrict toy gun play at home but
permit it outdoors or whilst playing at friends houses. Other parents
(or grandparents) allow children any kind of toy guns, feeling that what
is important is how the child uses the toy, not what it looks like. If
you disapprove of a particular toy, dont buy it. A flat refusal might
make a toy seem even more attractive to a child, so be careful to
explain your reasons for refusing.
The value of play, its importance for human survival, is that it allows
for the creation of imaginary worlds and the enactment of fantasy roles
without having to bring them about.
Encourage your children to play with a wide range of toys and dont worry
if some of their games appear aggressive. If you feel the need to
compromise, you might allow your child to earn the toy either by doing
chores or by paying for it from an allowance.
Real fighting is something else altogether, and should not be praised or
Set clear guidelines for the use of toys and video games. Be consistent
and firm - but not aggressive - in your disapproval of aggressive
Participate in your childrens rough and tumble play from time to time.
Play is one way children have of understanding the world of adults. Be
constructive, use it as an opportunity to discuss violence, guns, war
Children growing up in a warm, loving environment, with parents who
discuss violence and war, have nothing to fear from toys or video games.
The National Toy Council is concerned with child
welfare. Its members include Its members include representatives of the
Child Accident Prevention Trust, British Toy & Hobby Association,
National Association of Toy & Leisure Libraries, Institute of
Trading Standards Administration, BBC Childrens Television, national
press, renowned academics and a toy safety expert.
Compiled with the assistance of Professor Jeffrey
Goldstein BA MS PhD (of the University of Utrecht), member of the
National Toy Council.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
National Toy Council,