Are Nerf Blasters OK for kids?

A Consideration of the Suitability of Potentially 'Violent' Toys and Media for Children

By Alexandra Smith

Why are children exposed to violence at all?

It is easy to say: 'Keep children away from all toy guns, all video games and all media portraying violence.' However, in reality this is virtually impossible. Many U or PG rated films, children's television shows and even preschool story books show things which could be considered violent. This violence could be in the form of science fiction characters firing lasers at aliens, sheriffs arresting outlaws or friends firing water-pistols at each other. Even if you look at educational computer games geared towards younger children, you will find many of them include things like shooting paint at a picture or aiming an arrow at a number.

What if I don't expose my child to any kind of violence?

All parents should adhere to age restrictions on the products they buy, monitor any PG certified items and prevent their child from seeing unsuitable content on the internet. Most parents are careful in what they expose their children to but some are not and so potentially unsuitable topics can be learnt by even the most sheltered children when they play with their friends in the school playground.

What if I don't want my child playing with toy guns even if their friends are?

Safe target game?
Making sure that your child is informed is very important. Joining in with your child's play will give you the opportunity to teach them the truth about real guns and the difference between them and toy gun games. For example, if your child wants to have their birthday party at laser quest, you could see this as completely wrong or you could run around firing light with them. Some would argue that it would be good exercise, encourages children to follow rules and shows them how to think strategically or as part of a team. Essentially, as long as your child knows that their shooting play is make-believe and that they are acting-out a story safely then perhaps it's not a bad idea. It seems right to encourage children to pretend to drive or cook when real cars and real cookers are very dangerous- probably because these skills are usually modelled to them safely everyday. Therefore, perhaps the key to a healthy attitude towards guns is that target and team games involving toy guns are led by responsible adults too.

When are toy guns or gun games considered suitable for children?

Your child should know the difference between right and wrong from around the age of six to eight (as long as you've shown them and they do not have special educational needs). However, you know your child best and you need to be comfortable with what you're buying them. Follow manufacturer age recommendations to be on the safe side.

Toy Safety Tips:

- Games with toy guns, like all physical games, should be played in a safe environment and away from roads.

- All toy guns need to look like toys and legally must have orange tips to allow people to identify them as a toy.

- Ensure you or another responsible adult play with your child or children and introduce rules to teach fair play. Allowing children to referee (once they have seen how it's done) is a good idea.

- Games could involve teams trying to capture a flag or a 'three darts stick to your jumper and you're out' game where the last person playing is the winner. This all depends on the space, resources and players you have available. If it is just you and your child, you may wish to create a target (stationary or moving) and aim at it. Again, ensure your child knows this is just a toy and a game (real guns put holes in things whereas spongy Velcro darts just stick to them).

- Ensure all involved in the game treat it as play and a proper game or sport-like activity designed to be enjoyed safely (very different to violence and warfare seen in adult films).

 - Nerf Tag Darts stick to woolly jumpers and scarves so they can be used for target games. They do not often hurt if they hit you but Nerf disks do (so avoid those).

- Nerf Sharp Shot toy dart guns are relatively cheap, strong, easy to use and need no batteries.

- LUX eye-protection is cheap and should fit most children aged eight plus to prevent eye injury.

Video Game Awareness Tips:

- Always adhere to the age restrictions as sensationalism in some popular games would disturb many adults never mind children. Children do not always understand that the things on screen are not real so they may have nightmares about them actually happening. Platform games with unrealistic images are likely to be a lot less worrisome for children than the latest war games with their very realistic graphics.

- If you have seen a game you think would be suitable or your child has asked you for a particular game then play it yourself first or talk to a responsible adult who has played the game. You could also look in to renting or borrowing a game before committing to buying it for your child (they do not need to own it just because they have been allowed to play it at a friend's house).

- Each console has similar gadgets and games for children. If you or a family member does not already have a games console then look at the games available for each one and choose a system which your whole family would use. Essentially, intend to play with your child.

- If you plan to let your child play games on the Internet, play with them or at least monitor what they are playing on (adjusting the parent settings is not normally enough to keep kids on safe sites and they may find ways around any restrictions you have put in place).

Keep Reading: Four Cheap DIY Ideas

© This article and its photo(s) are the property of Alexandra Smith.

Disclaimer: These tips are created from lessons I have learnt during my own experience.  With regard to the content and advice on this blog, Alexandra Smith makes no representations or warranties about its accuracy, reliability or suitability for anyone. Any reliance you place on the blog or its content is at your own discretion and in no event will Alexandra be liable for any loss, damage or injury in connection with your use.

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