My kids loved going to the mall play area so much the other day that Dave and I ended up taking them there again this afternoon. There was a considerably higher volume of children squealing and carrying on, but everyone was getting along so well and playing together, I commented to Dave about how equal they all viewed each other. Little models of the way the world should be.
Then in popped a kid named Dean* (*not his real name). Dean was a boy of maybe 6, led into the play area by his mother who was very obviously not paying a lick of attention to the child. She ordered him to take off his shoes to which he said, “Nah, I don’t think so,” and instead of making him do it anyway to comply with the rules, she just sighed and let it go. Now, we’ve all had those days, so whatever, it was just shoes. The kid eventually took off his shoes because he realized he was the only one with them on, and things continued.
Not long after his arrival, I noticed the other children sort of gathering on the opposite side of the playground from wherever he chose to be. Then I listened, and above the bustling mall crowd, was able to pick out what had the other children fleeing from him.
“Bang, bang, bang!” He screamed, laughing manically. “I’m killing you all, I have guns!” and he pointed his fingers in the way that everyone recognizes as a hand gun symbol. Pointing directly at the other kids, one by one, he went down the line and “shot” them each in the head, ordering them to lie down and “just die already!”
Other parents were beginning to notice by now, and we exchanged uneasy glances. Yes, it’s true, kids play violent games – sticks often become swords, rocks become projectiles – but with the recent outbreak of gun violence particularly among elementary aged children, the majority of the adults present were appalled and frozen with the gut wrenching fear that comes when you realize just how quickly a fun day can become tragic.
His mother remained glued to her iPhone, oblivious to the situation, whether genuinely or by choice, and the “game” Dean was playing got progressively more violent.
It was when he tripped my middle daughter, 2.5 year old Lucy, sat on her legs with his “guns” out and yelled, “You’re mine, little bitch. I own you. I have the guns!” that I started to shake. I didn’t realize it at first but I was doing the zoning out, flashback thing that PTSD flings into my mind when the right trigger comes along.
A little over ten years ago, when I was 15, I was held by a then-boy-now-man at gunpoint and beaten nearly to death by said gun when it didn’t fire. This 6-year-old’s twisted fantasy game of killing and woman victimizing had sent me to a dark place that most days, I happily forget about. I breathed through the shakes and, in a moment of sheer bravery, did something I’d never have done even a month ago… I confronted his mother.
I sat down next to her and said something to the effect of:
Excuse me. Your kid is pretending to shoot people, whether you’ve noticed or not. It’s making everyone uncomfortable, and it’s seriously inappropriate…especially given the recent outbreaks of gun violence in small children. He just held my daughter down and told her to die, that he owned her, that she had to do what he said because he has a gun. It stops NOW or I go to mall security.
She rolled her eyes at me, mumbled something about boys being boys, and that she had “no idea where he’d hear that type of thing.” I mentioned that perhaps there should be more supervision in what her child is exposed to – because in the future, people may not be nearly as kind as I was about it.
Reluctantly, she dragged Dean into a corner and said, “please stop playing this. Other people don’t like it,” and pointed at me as though I’d asked her to poison him. He told her to “screw off” and continued. That’s when we packed up and shipped out.
This isn’t a matter of parental right and wrong. This isn’t a matter of kids playing games. This is a matter of letting boys get away with violent behaviors (fake or not) against girls (women) simply because they have penises. Boys will be boys is one of the worst phrases ever coined, and I’d love to shake the stuffing out of whoever first said it. My son is one of the most gentle, sweet people I know, and last I checked he’s the same sex as the kid who was pretending to blow people away at the mall. Genitals are not an excuse for poor behavior – End.Of.Story.
Parents. I urge you, please speak with your children about violence at an age appropriate level. No matter what religion, ethnicity, race, sex, lifestyle you come from… gun violence is not something small children should be simulating. It is not okay for your son to pretend to “own” my daughter with his gun – even if it is fake. It isn’t funny, it isn’t cute. It’s terrifying…because sometimes boys pointing finger guns grow up to be men pointing real ones at unsuspecting victims.
Talk, talk, talk the uncomfortable and scary talks that no one wants to have because those are the talks that matter most. Be clear, be honest. Talk consequences – good and bad. Sex, violence, respect for human life – these are the BIG topics that often mesh in such a horrifying manner…and the only way to prepare our kids for the situations they may encounter is to just keep talking.