N.B The research cited in the article is linked below.

The very first Christmas I spent in Beirut, I was completely shocked by the fact that parents gave their sons—some as young as two or three—toy guns. And not the colorful, foamy type of nerf gun that clearly shoots water. I’m talking about semi-automatic style machine guns in the mould of the real thing.

On day, I was walking in what is a typically quiet residential neighborhood in Verdun and there, about ten little boys were hiding behind parked cars playing cops and robbers. From a distance it truly looked like some sort of mini mafia had waged gang warfare, complete with snipers and bodyguards. Watching them from my balcony, they looked like they were having the time of their lives.

“This is what little boys wants,” says a toy store owner in Hamra. “Each year we run out of stock.”

As a Canadian, I was initially appalled by the ubiquity of toy guns, but after doing some research on the topic, I’ve had a change of heart. The research actually goes against all my initial feelings on the subject.

First of all, there have been no studies that link gun play with real life violence. Despite this, most schools in Canada and the United States completely ban toy weapons. Just a few months ago, an eight-year-old in Iowa was sent home for simply taking out a toy gun on the playground. Yet that ban is not reflected in the intense gun-happy society that Americans live in.

But playing imaginary games with toy guns can actually have a positive effect on childhood development by strengthening social skills and helping kids advance their verbal and non-verbal communication. The so-called “terrible twos” (the age when children tend to be the most rebellious and unruly) is the best time for such games because they promote learning and self-discovery.

Some argue that these sorts of games desensitize kids to real-life violence, but again, the research doesn’t support that claim. Banning toy guns will only add to their allure for children.

Violence is unfortunately a big part of how our world functions, and with the Internet and 24-hour news channels, there is absolutely no way of shielding kids from this reality.

When I think back on how quick I was to judge Lebanese parents who bought their kids toy guns, I realize how easy it is to mistakenly take North American norms as a gold standard. If you actually think about it, when was the last time a kid shot up a school in Lebanon?


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