As thoughtful, caring parents, we would never want to teach our kids that violence is the answer to any or every problem. We want our children to learn to get along with others, share, be kind, say “excuse me,” and try their best at an empathetic, “I’m sorry.”
I thought I was attuned to the violence that surrounds us in American culture. However, a trip to our local department store with my kids yesterday was shocking. We stepped into the toy aisles. Here is a quick rundown of the toys and action figures, in order… Batman; Power Rangers; Star Wars; Elite Force – modern Army/military toys; Professional Wrestling ; Next aisle: More Power Rangers; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Spider-Man; Super Hero Smashers; Marvel Comics Characters – Hulk, Avengers, Captain America, etc.; Transformers; End cap: Horror Series – Michael Meyers action figure from Halloween movies and Eric Draven from the Crow; Game of Thrones; Magic; HALO; Next Aisle: Super Hero Adventures – these are tiny cute versions of Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman and Hulk for younger kids.
Notice a pattern here? Every toy, without exception, uses violence and weapons to cause pain and/or death as their solution to problems. Then, with the Horror Series, we are supposed to play Serial Killer? Seriously?
What message does this send our children? Violence is heroic. Violence is the solution to all problems. Violence is a super power.
We are aghast and outraged when we see ISIS beheading a person on the nightly news, yet our children play out the same gruesome scenarios with the toys we get them for their birthday, the movies we take them to see, the comic books we buy for them, the shows they watch on TV, and the video games we buy for them.
What is a solution for this? Do I want a Selma action figure series at Target? Perhaps a Gandhi bobble-head? (Yes, that one exists…)
While that would be nice, the solution that I seek is to empower parents to take a stand for your values. Take a stand for peace-making. Take a stand for selfless service to others, out of compassion and empathy. Your children are looking to you to define how to interact with the world. Talk with them about your values, especially at Target, and especially in the toy aisle. How do you solve problems? Connect it to your faith or your belief system. What does it mean to you to be a Christian? A Muslim? A Unitarian Universalist? A Humanitarian? Who are the super heroes in your life and why?
Suddenly, those plastic “super heroes” and weapons seem pretty silly and your family’s connections, values and relationships have grown much deeper. Stand strong. Put peace into their hands. Leave the violence on the shelf.
David Soleil, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the former Chair of the Leadership Education group for the International Leadership Association, a founder and staff member at the K-12 Sudbury School of Atlanta.