Sticks, guns, swords – boys and their toys, it’s all very Freudian.
My three-year-old son doesn’t have a toy gun, nor does he have a plastic sword. That hasn’t stopped Bubba from turning every jagged stick he finds into Lightsaber or imagining his dinosaur figurines are handguns.
I’ve tried to deflect this behavior for months. However, I now admit that I’ve been beaten. Conversations about guns, Lightsabers, swords, and blasters occupy about 45 percent of my day. I absolutely can’t fight it anymore.
Before giving up on pacifism, I called the American Psychological Association and asked to speak with an expert on boys and their toys. Plastic guns and swords clog the aisles of toy stores everywhere. But do these sorts of toys lead to violent behavior?
Dr. Susan Lipkins doesn’t think so. She’s a psychologist who’s had a private practice for 20 years. The New York-based Lipkins has studied extensively on child and adolescent psychotherapy. She’s made appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and elsewhere to discuss bullying.
According to Lipkins, a boyhood obsession with guns and swords is normal. It begins around age two or three. Lipkins believes such behavior is tied to what Sigmund Freud dubbed the “phallic stage.” This is the age of development where little boys are obsessed with their penises. Plastic swords, giant sticks and toys guns are all extensions of their phallus.
“If you look at cultures all over the world – civilized and uncivilized parts of the globe – you will see little boys doing phallic things,” Lipkins said.
Even in places where kids have never seen a pistol, little boys will point their index fingers and raise their thumbs to simulate gunplay, she said.
Thinking back, I remember my mom trying unsuccessfully to raise her four sons without toy guns, too. Her tipping point came after the four of us chewed our buttered toast into the shape of handguns and were shooting each other from across the breakfast table.
Our toy guns arrived shortly thereafter. None of us turned out to be deadly assassins. So, it probably won’t happen to Bubba either.
In fact, my youngest brother kept a ThunderCats sword tucked behind his shirt collar for roughly two years. He became a landscaper, not Lion-O.
Still, it can be awkward for a preschooler to tote a toy gun or sword. Society looks down on these types of “dangerous” toys, regardless of what Mr. Freud says.
Lipkins reminded me that 3-year-olds aren’t aware of such taboos. Concerned parents can forbid toy guns and swords, but little boys are going to play with them regardless. Their imaginations turn empty wrapping paper tubes into swords and toast into guns.
Ironically, there’s no such equivalent for females. Little girls just aren’t interested in swords and guns in the same way as little boys. And whereas boys are constantly seeking to outdo each other by having a bigger sword or louder toy, girls generally don’t try to one-up each other in the same way, Lipkins said.
Girls may never fully embrace the phallic stage, but many men never grow out of it. Loud stereos and giant televisions simply replace toy guns and swords as boys become men, Lipkins said.
I’m not certain if I entirely buy into Freud’s theory. But there’s another theory that sounds very similar. It’s sometimes used as an excuse for bad behavior, but it’s better used to describe things like boys playing with swords and guns. The theory goes, “boys will be boys.”
Image credit: woodleywonderworks
Howard Ludwig is a former business writer who traded his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.