a world without a gun shaped pop-tart is no world at all

I’m overwhelmed at times by the plethora of boys.

First, there is my stinky husband.  Now, I love him, but good lord, he farts.. he burps… he just… stinks.

Then there is my stinky dog. Now, I love him but good lord, his name is Freuhauser. Enough said? (My stinky husband named him. Don’t blame me.)

Then there is my son. Now, I love him.  No but. (Unless he smears his poop on the wall. Then I might not like him very much.)

Boys are a different animal, aren’t they?  I mean, we (for the most part) are all married to one.  (Were we crazy to CHOOSE that?) They even play differently with our kids.  I notice the way Jon throws my son around, they wrestle, you know… boy stuff.

In May, Christopher Marshall, age 7, was suspended from his Virginia school for picking up a pencil and using it to “shoot” a “bad guy” — his friend, who was also suspended. A few months earlier, Josh Welch, also 7, was sent home from his Maryland school for nibbling off the corners of a strawberry Pop-Tart to shape it into a gun. At about the same time, Colorado’s Alex Evans, age 7, was suspended for throwing an imaginary hand grenade at “bad guys” in order to “save the world.”

With 70% of expulsions from schools being boys, how are our schools not serving their needs?  Play is so important in the emotional and physical growth of boys (and girls.)  By limiting creativity, and their natural tendency to be protectors.  According to one study (cited in this article), play fighting rarely escalates to violence. (The study says  only 1% of the time, in fact.)

Lately, with all the school violence and focus on bullying, many schools have adopted “Zero-Tolerance” Policies for many things.  For the most part, I’m cool with them.  But lately, there has been an increasing movement to ban all play that might include (play) fighting, etc.  They are twisting the “no weapons” policy to include “guns” made of fingers, barkchips.. pencils… you name it.

As I read this article, I found myself torn.  I worked with many students who were survivors of domestic violence and were triggered by violent play.  But should we be expelling a kid who was pretending to fight monsters with a barkchip “gun?”

One paragraph regarding “action narratives” (what outsiders might coin as violent play) struck me quite close to home, as a former preschool student educator:

According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.

In the era of decreasing physical activity but the cutting of gym and recess time, are our kids being force to lose their imagination to appease the ever increasing hot button topic of “Zero-Tolerance?”

Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts. Young boys, with few exceptions, love action narratives. These usually involve heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups. As boys’ play proceeds, plots become more elaborate and the boys more transfixed. When researchers ask boys why they do it, the standard reply is, “Because it’s fun.”

To take it a step further, are all-inclusive games not allowing our children to learn to win and lose? In my former life, I managed before and after school programs and summer camps, and inclusive play was ALL THE RAGE.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a HUGE place for inclusive “no loser” games.  These games provide a sense of teamwork and self worth.  But, I did notice a huge shift in the older kids who were raised on inclusive games… well… exclusively.  They were unable to handle situations where they failed.  They were horrible “losers.”  They couldn’t learn from mistakes, because previously all their mistakes were considered “creative.”  I started hiring staff out of high school who couldn’t be instructed to do something without arguing and just saying “no, I won’t do that, because I don’t WANT to.”

In conclusion, I think there is a fine balance.  I also think that like most things, it comes down to parenting.  Do you talk to your boy (or girl) about pretend play vs. real play?  Do you talk to them about making friends and making sure that they are kind?  Do you explain the difference between a real gun and a pretend one?  Do you teach your child how to win well?  Do you teach them how to lose well?  I think those are the things our boys need most.

That and more recess time.

And baths. (Let’s be honest here.)

Read the complete article HERE.


What is your experience with your child and “banned” play? 

Do you think boys are at a disadvantage in school?


Share. Visit. Read. Comment. Support.

Julia, formerly a molder of young minds, has briefly stepped away from that task to manufacture a child of her own. Along with the standard baby accessories such as hands and lips, she is planning on installing chrome side-pipes, rollbars, and a bitchin’ spoiler. She is fending off accusations that Jesse James is the true father.


  1. I feel that we are failing our boys constantly. In the 90’s, there was such a push for teachers to not ignore girls in the classroom, that instead, they started ignoring boys. This is proven in research. Long before I was a mother of a boy, I was concerned about our boys in this country. Then, we felt the need to teach our children that they always win. Then, many school districts did away with formal grades. Now, we’re stifling our boys creative play. And let’s not forget that we took teachers ability away years ago to physically comfort a sad, struggling child with a simple hug. I hate where this is all going. I feel like we’re raising unemotional drones for children. This is why we will not send our kids to public school. I want more control over how their emotions and creativity are treated, and I have more opportunity there in the private school system.

    One thought I had while reading this is this: if playing guns/war makes our boys violent, then wouldn’t “playing house and mommy” make our girls promiscuous? If our kids creative play leads to actual physical outcomes, does playing with dolls lead our girls to become pregnant at an early age? Of course not! (Or maybe it does,and no one has researched it, but I doubt it.)

    Zero tolerance policies are ridiculous. No two situations are the same. And they’re biased towards our boys.

    Great post!

    • “One thought I had while reading this is this: if playing guns/war makes our boys violent, then wouldn’t “playing house and mommy” make our girls promiscuous? If our kids creative play leads to actual physical outcomes, does playing with dolls lead our girls to become pregnant at an early age? Of course not! (Or maybe it does,and no one has researched it, but I doubt it.)”

      Such an interesting point!!!

  2. I am really concerned about this since I have a boy. He isn’t in to superheroes, and I don’t know if he knows what a gun is. We did buy him a water gun at the beach, and he loved it, but I don’t know if he understands that there are real weapons. I think pretend play is very important and that it teaches valuable lessons. I think that restricting children, especially boys, from that sort of play only makes the behavior they are trying to avoid that much more attractive. I thought I read an article from some place like Finland or Sweden that said that allowing children to play superheroes, guns, etc. actually reduced problem behaviors because they got the impulse out of their system.

    Overall, I’m concerned about how boys are perceived and treated in society and especially schools. Active and energetic? ADHD. Likes to play w/ toy guns? Clearly a future criminal or school shooter. It seems like we are pathologizing normal especially when it comes to boys.

    • The big thing I got from the article is that boys have a protector instinct. If it’s channeled correctly (fighting bad guys, saving the princess, etc) who are we to get in the way of that?

  3. I now want a poptart to nibble into the shape of a gun! I have been saying this forever, boys getting expelled for being boys. Do I think we need to teach that guns hurt and violence is bad? Yes, but we ALL grew up on cartoons like Bugs bunny and Elmer Fud in which Elmer was actively trying to KILL Bugs with a GUN in every episode. Yet somehow we didn’t all grow up to be homicidal maniacs. I pretend played as a child with pretend guns too. I wonder what the reaction to girls pretending a poptart is gun would be. I bet it’d be less harsh. I think we are overreacting to child’s play because we are refusing, or our defeated, in our attempts to have real conversations about adult-gun culture in this country.
    Also I DESPISE games where there is no loser and winner. Kids need to know how to lose and win gracefully. Oh homeschool, you are looking more and more attractive.

  4. Excellent post, and I think we need to read this kind of thing. My son is still crawling around and hasn’t hit the bullies of school yet, but I hope I can adequately prepare him still. Just wanted to say that bullies2buddies.com is a great resource and also “discipline without distress” which I just started reading now.
    By the way my mom always used to say “life isn’t fair” when things didn’t work out, I think it prepared me well!

  5. It makes me so mad that we are so anti-boy in public school (and moreso in many private schools I’m familiar with in my area at least). Zero tolerance policies are ridiculous and we need to get rid of them ASAP. They were supposed to eliminate the authority person playing favorites and reduce racist/sexist over-punishment of boys and boys of color, and the opposite seems to have happened. I read a blog post by a new special ed teacher who points out that in her district, her students will be over 70% male and almost exclusively Black. There’s a problem with how we identify “special ed” students if it’s all boys and/or children of color. ARG. There is a problem if we are squashing boys’ imaginative play while leaving girls alone. I don’t have solutions but we need to get to work on some.

    And I agree that we need more games so kids can practice winning and losing. It’s one of the reasons I love the pokemon league my kid participates in. She wins sometimes, she loses other times, but it gives her the chance to get used to winning and losing and the emotions that come with both.

    • Such an interesting insight, regarding the special ed blog post! My mother is a sped teacher and seems to have and reflects her observance too! Very interesting!

  6. And you’ve reminded me to read the author’s book The War on Boys at long last. I’m reading it as a counterpoint to Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

  7. So I’m a former elementary teacher who now a high school counsellor. Seen it all from the rough part of our city to the rich side in both public and private schools. It really does seem like things are different up here in Canada. Play exists – in all forms – and while boys are still primarily in “trouble” more than girls we certainly haven’t (from what I’ve seen) put a zero tolerance policy in place for imaginary play. Not sure what other provinces are doing but BC seems to recognize that limiting play certainly doesn’t prevent violence from happening. I’m also cautious with the whole public vs private debate. Paying for private doesn’t always get your kids the best education nor best environment. Though, I’m sure that varies in certain parts of the world.

%d bloggers like this: