Is It Wrong to Let Kids Play With Toy Guns?

With all of the violence in the world, particularly with the increase in school shootings, many parents and caregivers are worried about the effects of violent play. While many kids have a desire to play with toy guns and other toy weapons, the question is: should we let them?

Is it wrong to let kids play with toy guns? What about nerf guns or toy water guns? Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer. There are studies on both sides of the argument that support each stance. Ultimately, it comes down to a family’s viewpoints and the kid’s temperament.

Why It’s Okay to Let Kids Play With Toy Guns

There are many reasons that parents opt to let their kids play with toy guns. It’s important to remember that many parents make this choice after careful consideration and not out of negligence.

Child-Led Play

One of the current schools of thought in education and child development is the idea of child-led play. This theory suggests that kids have innate knowledge about how to play. As adults, it’s not our job to teach them how to play, but to act as a facilitator. Our job is simply to provide them with a variety of toys and let them choose how to use them.

Play Is a Safe Space to Explore Complicated Issues

Talking to your kids about gun violence is a challenge. Keeping them completely sheltered from it is an even bigger challenge. They’re going to see violence in some form, even if it’s on the news, movies, or video games. It can be a lot for a little kid to process.

Children often use play as a time to work through some of their feelings. When they’re playing with guns, they aren’t necessarily fantasizing about killing others. It’s more likely that they’re developing an understanding of good and evil.

Toy Guns Aren’t Always About Violence

When kids play with toy guns, they aren’t always acting on violent tendencies. It’s important to remember that for little kids, the world is big and scary. They often feel out of control, both with what’s going on in their own lives and the real world.

Playing with guns can give them a sense of power in a world where they feel powerless. Learning that there are real bad guys in the world can be scary, but playing a game where they vanquish the bad guys can be empowering.

Kids Will Make Guns Out of Anything

Many argue that there’s no point in forbidding all toy weapons. It’s not the weapons that inspire violence in kids, and banning toy guns won’t stop your kids from acting out violent scenarios. Kids will turn anything, from sticks to carrots to their own fingers, into a weapon. It’s a challenge to stop this type of habit.

Forbidding Guns Can Make Them More Appealing

It’s a well-known fact that once a parent forbids something, a kid’s interest in it will skyrocket. Many parents argue that banning all toy guns and weapons will just make them that more appealing because suddenly it’s something mysterious.

If you don’t want to explicitly forbid guns but would rather your child not play with them, you can try to redirect their attention instead of making a big deal about it.

Play Guns Don’t Necessarily Make Kids More Dangerous

While there have been a few studies showing a link between playing with toy guns and aggression, the evidence is inconclusive. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done before scientists can make a definitive claim.

It is important to note that no studies have proven that playing with toy guns led to violent behavior in adulthood. There’s no proven link between gunplay in childhood and violence in adulthood, and there are many factors that come into play.

Play Guns Can Help With Aggression

Contrary to popular belief, some parents have found that playing with toy guns and other weapons curbs their children’s aggressive behavior. Some kids have a lot of energy and they often channel it through aggression, such as wrestling.

When parents allow their kids to play with toy guns, they can often get out their aggression in a safe place. They may engage in aggressive behavior while playing and then be ready to act civilized in other situations.

Why You Shouldn’t Let Your Kids Play With Toy Guns

For all the parents who let their kids play with toy guns, there are just as many who decide not to. Their reasons are also valid and they aren’t simply trying to take the fun out of playing.

Toy Guns Can Encourage Violent Behavior

While not all gunplay influences kids to engage in violent behavior, it is a concern. One study found that playing with toy guns could lead to aggressive behavior. Many kids who played with toy guns also behaved aggressively during other forms of play.
Many parents have opted not to encourage this type of behavior by giving their kids toy guns. Instead, they focus on toys that have a more neutral connotation and let their children play as they will.

Toy Guns Can Be Scary

The sad fact is that we live in a world where gun violence is a frequent occurrence. Kids hear about school shootings, crimes, and more on the news and in other places. For some kids, playing with a toy gun makes it all too real. They may become overwhelmed if the play gets too intense.

Toy Guns Often Promote Gender Stereotypes

Toy guns are typically marketed to boys, which suggests that boys are expected to engage in violent and aggressive play while girls are not. When kids of both genders play with guns, some adults assert gender stereotypes.

For example, aggression in boys is often written off with the outdated adage “boys will be boys.” Yet when girls engage in this same behavior, it’s discouraged and they’re reminded to act like a lady.

Playing With Toy Guns May Be Disrespectful

Even if your child doesn’t personally know a victim of gun violence, many people have suffered. Playing with guns may be disrespectful to those who have died or lost a loved one.

Additionally, one of your child’s friends may have experience with gun violence. Playing with toys guns in their presence may be frightening or may make it seem like they’re taking a serious issue too lightly.

Kids Can Get the Wrong Idea About Guns

When kids play with toy guns, they may not understand exactly how harmful real guns can be. While their play, life, and death are all part of their imagination. Someone can “die” in a game and then come back to life in the next minute. Kids may not understand the finality of actual death.

Practice What You Preach

If you’ve taken a stance on gun control, you probably want to keep toy guns out of your child’s toybox. If you let your child play with toy guns but don’t support the current gun laws, then you’ll be sending your child a mixed message about guns.

Even Toy Guns Can Be Dangerous

Sadly, there are quite a few instances in the news where police have mistaken toy guns for real weapons. These incidents have ended badly for the kids who were playing with the guns.

For many parents that do let their kids play with toy guns, they still don’t allow them to play with realistic-looking weapons for this very reason.

Gun Safety and Toy Guns

If you decide to let your children play with guns, you will likely want to go over some rules for gun safety. You can also set some boundaries to allow them room to explore and imagine without allowing the play to get out of hand.

Discuss Gun Safety

Whether you allow your kids to play with toy guns or not, you need to talk to your kids about gun safety. Even if you don’t have guns in your house, you still need to have the talk. Be sure your kids understand to never touch a gun and to find an adult.

Set Up Some Ground Rules

You may want to encourage your kids to fight imaginary bad guys instead of pretending to shoot one another. This may help to discourage physical aggression between them. Before playing with guns, all of the kids involved should talk about what type of play they’re comfortable with.

If playing with guns that shoot darts or foam balls, they should never aim for the other person’s face. They also shouldn’t shoot pets.

Monitor Play

Keep an eye on your kids while they’re playing out scenarios with toy guns. If things start to get out of hand or too intense, you can always redirect their play into safer territory.

Be Careful About the Type of Toy Guns You Buy

Finally, you may want to limit the style of toy guns you’ll buy. Choose toys guns that are obviously toys, such as those made with bright colors, instead of ones that look realistic. A lot of toy manufacturers have stopped making realistic toy weapons anyway.

Airsoft Guns, BB Guns, Paint Guns, etc.

Many parents opt to let their kids play with airsoft, paint, and BB guns, but there are a few rules they should always follow. Only older kids should be allowed to play with these. They should also understand that these “toys” are dangerous and can cause serious injuries.

Alternatives to Toy Guns

If your kid is insisting on playing with toy guns, but you would rather them not, you may be able to offer alternatives. There are toys like marshmallow slingshots, catapults, and darts that let kids practice their aiming and firing without actually playing with a gun.

Even simple toys, like a bean bag toss or water balloons, can often give kids the type of play they want. You can also find other ways for your kids to get out their energy and aggression. Get them involved in active play, like tag or hide and seek.

Parting Thoughts

Ultimately, there is no clear answer whether playing with toy guns affects kids’ aggression or tendency for violence, especially in the long term. It often comes down to the individual kid and how they choose to play with the guns.

As a parent, it’ll be up to you to consider your child and their temperament to determine if toy guns are appropriate for them. It’ll also be up to your family’s values and the type of play you want to condone.

Brett Gordon

The brains behind The Toy Report. Having clocked tons of time in toys research and online resource development, today, Brett is dedicated to making The Toy Report a trusted space in the world of toy reviews and recommendations.