Monday, November 1, 2010

"Good Guys" and "Bad Guys"

Lately my little three year old has been obsessed with "bad guys" and has been fascinated with violence.

Example #1: A few days ago we were watching the movie "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and he wanted to watch the battle scene at the end (you know the one where the armor comes to life and takes on the Nazis) over and over again. He spent the next 24 hours telling me about how the bad guys "shooted" the other guys. How they "bonked da heads" and how they used their "swourds".

Example #2: My husband and I are pretty strict about not allowing toy weapons in to our home or watching or reading violent things. Obviously this hasn't stopped him because the other day he picked up one of the tomato stakes out of our garden and spent a good half hour thrusting it around and yelling "I kill you bad guy!"

Example #3: Whenever he is playing with a group of other little boys they ALWAYS end up playing some sort of shooting or fighting game-- even when there are no weapons to be had-- that involves "bad guys" and "good guys". They spend hours chasing each other around and taking turns being good and bad.

Example #4: In church on Sunday we were looking at the pictures of Christ on the cross and I mentioned that the "bad guys" had put Jesus on the cross and pointed out the Roman soldiers in the background. For the rest of church all he wanted to do was look at the picture of the "bad guys" and have me tell him about how they gave Jesus "owies" in his hands and feet.

I know that these things are fairly mild incidents but I have to admit they have sort of horrified me. I feel like my husband and I have been really, really careful about what we let him see and participate in and so to see him-- my pure, clean, perfect little boy --practicing these sort of violent things really terrifies me. How can I have already failed as a mother at three-years- old?!

Yet after praying and pondering on this sort of behavior, and getting over my initial feelings of horror and guilt, I realized something important.

In "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" when it talks about gender it says, "By divine design, fathers are to... provide the necessities of life and protection for their families." It dawned on me that perhaps one of the reasons that my little boy is so interested in "bad guys" and in fighting against them is that there is a part of his eternal soul that feels the need to protect. Perhaps, just like little girls will play with a doll to practice their nurturing responsibilities, little boys will play "bad guys" and "good guys" to practice their protection responsibilities.

When I mentioned this idea to my husband a little light went on in his head. He told me, "Heather, you have no idea how strongly the need to protect is imprinted on men's souls. I don't ever leave this house without worrying about you and the children. Protection is constantly on my mind. It comes from somewhere deep." As we talked more about it we realized that by playing at "bad guys" and "good guys" our little boy is trying to figure out what is right, what is wrong, and what his role is in all of that-- even at three- years- old.

Seeing our boy's actions in this light has really changed the way we've started approaching his games of "bad guys" and "good guys". We see his play time as a way for my husband and I to teach him about what it means to be a righteous man and prepare him for his role as a husband and protector. Through playing with him we have the opportunity to teach him:

.... that there is no glory in violence....

.... that a man of God values life above all else....

.... the difference between protection and aggression.... to handle anger and hurt in a peaceful way....

.... good communication skills....

... that weapons are not "toys" and that to wield one is to carry a heavy responsibility....

... that taking a life, even if it is pretend, is a serious thing and is never something to be taken lightly....

... that what you think and do, even for entertainment, determines the state of your soul...

.... to recognize that each person is a child of God and has innate worth....

.... and that love is a more powerful weapon that hate.

Who knew that playing "bad guys" and "good guys" could be full of such powerful eternal lessons?

I still don't think that we will ever allow toy weapons in our home, but I guess the next time my little boy picks up a tomato stake and spends the afternoon "getting the bad guys" I'll try not to be too horrified. I'll try to see it as an opportunity to teach him about his role as a righteous man here on earth and how to fulfill it...

... just as long as he doesn't try to spear his sister with his tomato stake.


  1. I never allowed weapons in my house either. My boys all grew up to be wonderful men. I think you do what you feel is right. You teach them the best that you can. Any you allow Heavenly Father to have an influence in their lives. I know I used to be horrified when the boys would take sticks and make slingshots to kill the "bad guys". I had to learn that is part of being a boy. I don't have to make it easy for them though! I think you are doing an amazing job. Just trust your instincts and everything will be fine.

  2. I think that you're right. Boys have something innate in them to protect and provide. Unlike you we have a whole bin of "weapons"... swords, light sabers, guns, etc. I find nothing wrong with it. Little boys are going to make weapons of whatever they can find.... I've seen a little boy take a slinky and turn it into his "sword." We have rules that you can't point a gun at people, etc. Most of the time my boys play on the same team to protect the family from the bad guy and that's okay with me.

  3. Like Jeanine, we have toy "weapons" at our house - but we also have rules about pointing them at people, hitting people, etc. We even talk to our son about "killing" the bad guys, and try to teach him the lessons you listed in your post. Very great post, by the way.

    I have been reading a book for the past few years called "Preparing Him for the Other Woman" - basically a book about how to teach your son to be a good husband and father, because, contrary to their frequent beliefs, they will not be able to marry their mother :) Anyway, she talks about fostering the sense of "protector" in our sons - always asking them who they are fighting for, what they are fighting for, etc. She talks about teaching them to be a "hero" - and also makes a point to teach them about rescuing people in other ways than just with swords and guns and fighting - through acts of service and thoughtful words towards others.

    Anyway, a great post with lots of great points that I think mothers (especially Christian mothers) of little boys sometimes overlook. We get so caught up in shielding our children from violence that we don't stop to think about the lessons we need to teach them about through and because of violence. We will never be able to shield our children from violence (I'm not saying that means we need to expose them to large amounts of it at an early age) but it behooves us to teach them what violence is, what protection is, and what weapons are.

    I especially like these points (ones we try to teach, but many people forget about):

    ".... that there is no glory in violence....
    ... that taking a life, even if it is pretend, is a serious thing and is never something to be taken lightly....
    .... to recognize that each person is a child of God and has innate worth...."

    I tell my son, when he is "killing the bad guys" that even killing bad guys is not always okay, because "bad guys" are also children of God.

  4. I love how you turn such everyday things into a great learning experience! I have had a hard time explaining to Porter what is and is not ok when it comes to violence. He loves Batman and other similar heroes who never kill the "bad guys" just leave them for the police. That's good right. Well now he is wondering why his other favorite heroes like Ammon and Nephi hurt other people instead of letting the police get them. I think the answer to that is in the motivation, protecting family, home, and freedom. Big things for little ones to understand.

  5. so true...and that's why we have women around to balance those "protectors" out! :)

  6. A study was done decades ago where they try to raise boys and girls exactly the same. When it was "Doll Time", the little boys picked them up and used them as guns! You just can't get away from our differences!

  7. I love love love this!! I have tried my best to avoid any kind of weapon as well... much to my chagrin the boys (I have 2, 2 & 4) pull paper towel tubes out of the trash and, among other things, play swords or guns or whatever! I am SO glad you posted this! It makes SO MUCH sense! I still hate guns/swords but now I know it's just in their DNA! Thanks again!

    BTW I LOVE your blog so so much! I truly find much peace in your words and so much strength in reading about these amazing women in the scriptures. I am about to go through the temple without my honey... it is a very bitter sweet journey. But I find so much strength and courage from YOU and these amazing women speaking from the dust. Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this blog!!!

  8. Great post! I've been thinking about some of these issues too so I appreciate your perspective and insight. We don't have toy weapons in our house either, but Jefferson likes to make "blasters" (i.e. from Star Wars) with his MegaBloks. (That's the most violent thing we've let him watch. Before having kids, I always thought we'd raise our kids on Star Wars young so they like it as much as we do - but man, the first time I let him watch it I felt guilty. :-p They really are kinda violent...!) He'll make a blaster for himself and one for Mommy and call me the Bad Guy and we'll make pshew pshew sounds at each other. But I've avoided saying the words "shoot" and "kill" - trying to tame it down while he's so young to "you got me" and stuff like that. So hard to know how to teach someone so young about such big issues! Sounds like you're doing a great job. :)