'I want war toys, Santa!'

Thomas V. DiBacco

December 13, 1991|By Thomas V. DiBacco

NO NONSENSE has been more widely disseminated over the last few Christmases than the equation of war toys with adverse effects on children. I grew up with cap guns, toy tanks, cannons, and holsters in the 1940s and rarely missed a Saturday morning movie featuring cowboys and Indians who shot enough guns and arrows to rival major battles in our nation's history.

Yet, none of my childhood friends or I became violent adults, and my last fight occurred in 1943 when Petie Zachinini blackened my six-year-old left eye in a dispute over his riding my pedal-push firetruck.

A major dilemma of American society today is that many parents want society to hold the responsibilities that their predecessors ordinarily held -- and even cherished. Rather than burdening their own sense of values regarding the kind of TV programs their children should watch, they would prefer that violent programming be banned altogether during certain hours. Rather than putting a time limit on their teen-ager's evening activities, they would campaign for government imposed curfews.

Instead of making prudent judgments over toys their children should have, some defer to the bureaucratic wisdom of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And if Johnny or Mary can't read or spell, then the problem is obviously with the school DTC system, even though the parents might not have taken the time to read to the kids when they were preschoolers.

And some of these same parents are insistent on a school prayer amendment to the Constitution, thereby making the state the initiator of religious activity for their children. Yet there is nothing to prevent the parent from saying to Sally every morning before ** the child departs for school: "Now don't forget to say a prayer today for Grandma."

There's a campaign today to get Congress to legislate maternity paternity leave benefits -- on the theory that it's a good idea for a mother and/or father to spend time with their infant child. Indeed, if that is good social policy -- and surely European countries think it is so -- then doesn't it stand to reason that the mother and father are in an excellent position to make decisions about the type of toys their child should have?

Our society has become so bogged down in specialization and fine points that we often tend to forget about common sense. Medieval religion was perhaps the first field to illustrate this trend when church leaders debated for hours on end how many angels could stand on the end of a pin. What was ignored was attention to more fundamental issues dealing with the good and the bad.

Each parent, by virtue of having lived to adulthood, has acquired a certain street smarts that can be effectively employed in the raising of children. For one thing, a parent was once a kid with toys and memories -- good and bad -- that can be distilled for some practical wisdom.

It doesn't take a Ph.D in child psychology or engineering for parents to be educated consumers. A century ago many Americans, including the New York Times, wanted to ban the Christmas tree because its lighted candles often caused major fires.

Fortunately, even before Thomas Edison came up with the incandescent bulb that would solve the problem, some Americans found two practical ways to deal with this crisis: (1) some member of the family would always be in the room when the candles on the tree were lit or (2) the family simply put up trees without candles.

Thomas V. DiBacco teaches at the American University in Washington, D.C.

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