Are Children Becoming Too Violent?
The violent tendencies of human beings have always been under debate, especially those of children. In Jean Marzollo’s “My Pistol Packing Kids” she discusses the violence that she has seen emerge in her own children as well as in some others. Her belief is that a child’s tendency to act out violent fantasies as play is natural, therapeutic and irresistible, but not dangerous. In some ways I agree with Marzollo. I truly believe that all human beings have a tendency towards violence, at least to some extent. Fortunately as we grow older we begin to realize that true violence has no place in our society. We will never be able to shelter our kids from the world around us, and therefor they will learn about many things, including violence, that we would rather them not know. While I am in basic agreement with Marzollo, I must also argue that
Marzollo’s essay is written based upon her experience with her own children and a few other kids and not as a study of all children. Her experiences are very limited and therefore are flawed to a point.
Marzollo begins her essay by saying that her children, ages seven and five, have begun to enjoy watching violence on television and playing out violent fantasies. “They are at the ages when they know what they see on television is not real. Instead of worrying about reality as they did when they were three or four… ” (596). While the ages of her own children are used here, and the statement may be true in their case, I believe that in many cases “the age of innocence” varies greatly among children. In some cases, such as my own child, there are mental or emotional handicaps that hinder the learning processes that enable a child to distinguish between right and wrong or real and pretend. In some cases the child may be exposed to violence and then told that it is pretend, but he/she does not have the capacity to understand that if a real gun or knife was used to duplicate the violence he/she has witnessed then the outcome would be dreadful. So to my way of thinking children should be only allowed to watch violent television or act out violent fantasies once the parent believes the child really does understand the difference between reality and fiction.
In connection to the mental maturity level of children, Marzollo states “From my observation, the kids who enjoy playing with toy guns in the yard are those who have already learned to be cautious around cars, ovens, and climbing equipment. They don’t want to get hurt and they know how not to”(599). Unfortunately not all children who truly enjoy playing these games are this enlightened. My own son began wanting to play with toy guns and knives at the age of three. Not only did he not have the wisdom to be cautious at that age, now that he is seven there are times when he is overly excited and doesn’t pay any attention to the world around him. Consequently he is no longer worried whether he will get hurt or hurt others. So maybe Marzollo’s observations are correct for the children she has watched, but in my opinion there are many children in the world who just do not fit into her category of child. Parents should supervise their own children’s play, and in time they will learn to observe their children in a whole new light.
“But our children don’t want to play nice. They want to have fun”(Marzollo 597). Now why on earth would someone say that our children don’t want to play nice? Marzollo seems to be saying that all violent fantasies are mean or hurtful to someone, but in many instances the children playing out these fantasies never do their playmate any pretend harm. I have watched as some children play, and in a lot of cases the children seem to team up on an imaginary monster or bad man more often than they “shoot it out” with each other. In my mind this type of violence is a welcome sight, as long as it is teaching children about caring for other human beings and living things. As Marzollo also states, children who tend to play these types of violent fantasies are not doing anything wrong, but are actually learning about “… organizing themselves… cooperating with each other… improvising… and giving and taking directions”(598). So, even though children may be playing violent games, they are still playing nice.
Children are supposed to do everything they are told and not do the things that are fun to them but we see as dangerous. They are introduced to many different concepts that are just too hard for them to understand. They are terrified of many different things, both imaginary and real. In many ways our children feel as if they are on a roller coaster ride with no way to control how fast they go or when they can get off. I totally agree with Marzollo when she states, “It seems to me that fantasy play is effective in the sense that it allows children to blow off a lot of steam… ln a way children are their own play therapists, helping each other cope with pent-up rage” (599). If our children need anything that we as parents are unable to provide them it would be this. We cannot get into our children’s minds, and most of us have forgotten what it was like to think as a child. Even therapists and specialists do not truly know what is going on inside their little psyches. As a child I would often play such games as “tag” or “hide and seek” while using play guns to “shoot” whoever I caught. To me this was a way to let off a lot of pent-up energy after having to sit still in school all day. It would also allow me to relieve some of my anger at my brothers by pretending to shoot them. If playing these violent games will help children who cannot express their emotions in other ways to remain mentally and emotionally healthy, then I am all for it.
In conclusion, I must say that Marzollo makes some very good points, even though I believe that she should have done some more research and observed more children before making some of her statements. I must add though that her statement “It takes more than toy guns to make a killer” (599) is true for any child in the world and should be considered when parents are wondering, “What will happen if I let my child play with a water pistol?”
Marzollo, Jean. “My Pistol-Packing Kids.” The Macmillan Reader, 4th ed.
Ed. Judith Nadell, John Langan, Linda McMenima. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1996. 595-600.