Simcha Fisher tells a tale of boys with sticks:
Several years ago, a nice family came over our house. It was partly for a social call, and partly to see if our family would do well as a daycare for their two kids when the mom went back to work. The girl was about four, and the boy was about six.
As we adults chatted, the kids explored the house. At the far end of the living room were the toys, including a tidy bucket full of weapons belonging to our sons and daughters. There were bows and arrows, swords of all kinds, scimitars, light sabers, pistols, slingshots, rifles, daggers, and machine guns. I watched a little nervously, because I knew this mom leaned progressive, and was raising her kids to be non-violent.
Her little girl immediately found a baby doll, sat down, and put the doll to bed. The little boy scuttled over to the weapons, and before I could say more than, “Um–” he had grabbed two swords and swung them, with a natural expertise, in a gleeful arc over his head.
“HAHH!” he shouted, and held that pose for a moment, swords raised. Eyes on fire, happiest boy in the world.
I slewed my eyes over to his parents, not sure what I would see. Horror? Disgust? Outrage? Dismay?
They both looked . . . immensely relieved. “Well, there goes that,” said the dad, apparently referring to the no-weapons policy they’d followed strictly for the last six years. I tried to apologize, but they both said, “No, no, it’s fine.” And it was fine. There was no tension in the room. Their son had hands made to hold weapons, and now he had some.
I wasn’t surprised to see the boy taking so naturally to swordplay, but I was fascinated to see his parents taking so naturally to the rules of our house, which were so different from the rules in their own home. Once their son’s unsullied hands first made contact with the weapons of war, the whole family relaxed into that reality immediately.
There’s a larger point:
It doesn’t make violence go away when we always tell boys, “Put that stick down.” Instead, it’s making a world where people, boys and girls alike, have no idea what to do about unjust violence.
Boys who are never allowed to be wild are boys who never learn how to control that wildness.
Don’t banish fighting; banish cruelty.
In the issue of violent play, as with so many other issues, we’re forgetting there’s such a thing as balance and middle ground. Parents believe that there are only two choices: we can raise our sons to be quiet, passive, nurturing empaths who could easily slide into a princess dress without making a ripple — or we can raise them to be swaggering, slavering beasts who exist only to give orders and mow down anything in their path.
There is, of course, an in-between. There are men who are strong and tough and in control of their strength, and these men were once boys who grew up with both weapons and rules.
Violence doesn’t take over when boys are allowed to have sticks. Violence takes over when no one tells boys what sticks are for.