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DIANNE KLEIN

We Tell Kids Guns Aren't OK, but TV Says Differently

June 03, 1993|DIANNE KLEIN

We're on our way to school in the morning, the 6-year-old and I, and I've turned down the car radio to begin my list of "Don't forgets." She says that she won't Mom, that she promises Mom, and then she hums a song.

So I up her one. I sing the lyrics. With gusto, I might add.

My daughter's head snaps toward me then, her mouth opening and a smile bouncing toward her eyes. "Huh? How did you know that ?" she asks.

"I was a kid once too," I say. Only my daughter's not quite ready to believe. Nonetheless, she sings along.

A few days later, we're at a restaurant and the 6-year-old is joined by her younger sister and another sisterly pair. But, sigh, they don't pass out crayons with the menus here. So the girls start their own fun, another throwback to more innocent times.

With each bounce of their fists against the cushioned booth seat, my daughter and her 5-year-old pal call out a number in unison, one . . . two . . . three.

At three, my daughter's fingers form the scissors, but her friend's remain squeezed into a fist. She, in other words, is the rock. And rock crushes scissors. Bop on the hand for my daughter. The 5-year-old wins.

Until the next round.

One . . . Two . . . Three. The 5-year-old sticks with the rock, figuring it did her right before. I'm watching, peering over the table, to see what metamorphosis my daughter's fingers will undergo now.

I'm silently hoping for a flattened palm--paper--which covers the rock. That way my kid will win. (Oh, I know, shame on me. What a childish attitude. But see, smarty pants, at least it shows I was a kid once.)

Yet in a flash, my daughter brings me back to the here and now. At the count of three, she sticks out her thumb and forefinger.

It is a gun. Bang. The 5-year-old is symbolically blown to bits.

Little girls didn't play that way when I was growing up.

"Where did you learn that ?" I almost shriek to my daughter.

She gets that confessional look on her face, but it's edged with surprise. She thinks she must have done something wrong, right?

"At school . . ." she says.

"Well, guns don't belong in that game," I say. "Don't use that anymore."

OK, my daughter says that she won't. Her father tells her the same. She promises. The game continues with the rock, scissors, paper and another new element, a pencil, which my daughter figures is cool.

But does it really matter? Guns, still, are everywhere.

I can tell my daughter that violence is not the way to settle things, that guns are not toys, that firepower is not hip. And I do this, sometimes calmly, and at other times with less finesse. I stand wide-eyed, sputtering almost, when kids come up with these things.

Yes, it is true. It's been a long time since I was a child. At times, it seems like light years.

Sure, guns are at school, in the imaginative games of first-graders looking to even the score, and in the real-life horrors of older kids who have ducked bullets fired in the halls. You don't move fast enough, you get killed.

Of course if there isn't that much real-life excitement in their own neighborhoods, the kids can always turn on the TV. Regardless, they tune in.

And the fantasy line blurs.

Studies ad nauseam to back this up: Children see, children do. Among my daughter's favorite lines is this. "But I saw it on TV!" Therefore, it's the way the world is.

I remember when I was growing up, an "action adventure" brought to mind the Hardy Boys. Now we're talking the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone blasting everything in sight. Why? This makes the entertainment industry big bucks.

Far too many people have developed a taste for blood.

The other day, some big-shot television executives were called before a Senate hearing on violence on TV. It was the second such Congressional proceeding in eight days, seeing as how, finally, legislators are getting the message that children are imitating the violence that they see on the tube.

The network execs were almost contrite. They promised (again) that they would do their best to tone the violence down. They don't want the government to step in. And what about the movies, and cable? they asked. They said, in essence, "I share your concern, senator. But don't pick on us."

Right. Nobody wants to be picked on. We are the land of the free. We are, above all else, individuals. Proud. Constitutionally guaranteed.

Check. I understand all that. But all that doesn't mean as much to me when I think about my kids. My daughter might not understand what the big deal is in introducing a make-believe gun to a game of scissors, paper and rock. It would make her a winner, would it not?

No, it would not. When we play around with violence, we all lose.

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