Concerns over LEGO toy guns unveils a nation of wimps

Anti-gun activists would like to turn us into a nation of wimps.  To some, this will sound obvious, while others will think I’m exaggerating.  But more and more, the idea of being able to take care of oneself is contemplated with contempt and even horror by many in this country.  Changing your own tire, cutting your own hair, or raising your own food—especially if we’re talking about animals—are seen by the effete as things that only the rubes in the flyover states still do.

Naturally, weapons draw the particular ire of people with this attitude.  Thus we have Rebecca Givens Rolland, writing for WBUR’s Cognoscenti page, and her reaction to visiting Legoland with her daughter.  Her article, “When Legos Mean War:  Are Our Toys Too Violent?” is an exercise in hand-wringing over the idea that human beings might have a purpose for fighting tools.

Her particular concern is for The Children ®.  Citing a study published in PLOS ONE on the increase of simulated weapons in Lego sets over time, she expresses concern that parents are supporting violence in the play of their children.  In her view, “when we play with those Lego sets, we are not simply building. We are practicing war.”

And?  Rolland is a speech-language pathologist and consultant on education and parenting, according to her website.  Surely she’s aware that in fantasy play among boys, competition and a desire to dominate are normal, not something to panic over or to medicate away.  And while it is an easy stereotype to say that boys are more aggressive than girls, the reality is that while boys may be more physically aggressive, both sexes will seek dominance in social settings.

Rolland’s article is a glaring example of the phenomenon of helicopter parenting, the urge of parents to descend into the lives of their children to prevent any danger or loss, whether emotional or physical.  Children need to compete for genuine rewards of success and consequences of failure if they’re going to become functional adults, and as I’ve observed in nearly two decades of teaching college students of all ages, more and more the ones who are fresh out of high school are timid folks who are of the age of majority, but who would find organizing a trip across the road a challenge.

Yes, violent play is in part a preparation for violence in real life.  We’ve known this for a long time, going back to the ancient Greeks in conscious statement and tested out every football season in America.  When war ceases to be possible, we can have a discussion about the continued utility of two sports teams facing each other on a field of battle, but even in such a paradise, if we lose our competitive spirit, we’ll fall into stagnation.  And that’s the thing about fantasy violence that we should celebrate, not feel shameful about.  When we fight in play, we find ways to channel aggression and desire for dominance into skills that let us make new discoveries about the world and find new answers to our problems.

That’s my concern about Lego sets.  When I played with the blocks as a child, they were blocks.  What they become was up to me.  But the troublesome increase in Lego is in how they are most often toys being a kind of product placement for movies, taking away the element of imagination.  Make an X-wing starfighter from a box of nondescript blocks, and I’ll be impressed.  Put together the same out of three or four parts made for easy assembly, and you might be ready for a participation trophy.

Rolland is worried about her child seeing toys made to look like guns while playing.  My parents were the same.  They hated the very idea of weapons.  And here I am, a gun owner writing for a gun magazine.  Train up children in the way you want them to go, and they’ll eventually run as far away from it as they can.  Play is a key time for children to discover who they are, not who they’re being molded into.  And toy weapons are an illustration of our ability to shape our world.  If we want to continue growing and learning, shutting down this integral part of children’s fantasy is the wrong answer.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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