Part Two: Killing Bad Guys
Read this second in a series taken from my journals about troubling challenges boys and girls face in this culture…
In order to find out more about how kids think about their world and in particular how they see themselves dealing with fears, danger or violence, I thought it would be best to set up another fact finding interview process to find these things out directly from them.
As during the Pokemon period, children volunteered to teach me about their danger games. The children talked with me about the differences between how girls and boys play, and why. Out of a kindergarten aged class of twenty two children, sixteen signed up to be interviewed; nine boys and seven girls.
I used a hand held recorder to document our talks. Almost every child who met with me wanted to hear their own voice, and so I would play back little bits for them. Some would giggle or blush, or run off happily, one little boy exclaiming, “That doesn’t sound like me! That sounds like a little kid!”
Children spoke freely and honestly. However, they did tire, and sometimes it was difficult for them to stay focused. Their developmental need to move about was underscored by being asked to sit and talk for about ten minutes. I made sure to have snacks of fruit and crackers on the table, (cold grapes and popcorn being very popular), to ease the process for them a bit. They were not expected to stay seated, but just to please stay near the table and recorder until we were finished.
I had an advantage as an interviewer because I already had an established relationship with each of them, and the subject of violence and danger was something we often talked honestly and non-judgementally about in child centered problem solving groups, so it was not a new subject nor someone they did not know asking them questions.
The names of the children have been changed to protect privacy.
Common themes emerged from our conversations…..
When children specifically spoke to the word or concept of danger, the things they mentioned were of a broad scope. Two boys had very similar images of danger being below you, in back of you, all around you, and then there was danger from above. Everywhere. A girl explaining why she did not enjoy games about fighting and killing , said that she thought pretending to die looked dangerous. One boy clearly stated that storms were very dangerous, and another child expressed concern for wobbly buildings being dangerous. Another child mentioned fire.
Most girls and boys reported that they were afraid of something specific. Only one boy, Dane, insisted that he was afraid of absolutely nothing. Bad guys, monsters, trolls, ghosts, the devil, dinosaurs, vultures, falcons, hawks, wolves and coyotes were named. Bad guys were at the top of the list for all children, girls as well as boys.
Dying was not spoken about overtly, but seemed to be an underlying theme that the specifically named sources of fear represented. Dying was only mentioned specifically once in relation to fear, and in a whisper. I was sitting across the table from six year old Annie, who had been describing certain ways that she liked to play danger games with girls. One game she called “Lava”. The idea was that the grass in her backyard was lava and girls had to get all around the yard without stepping or falling into the lava. She said that she and her friends spent quite a lot of time figuring out how to navigate from benches to pathways, and that if a girl stepped in the lava, then the other girls had to save her. She sighed as she assured me that people got saved every time.
She then began to tell me how she played this game with boys and girls sometimes too. She didn’t like playing with a particular boy because he always turned the game into a hunting game, and that she had to be an animal and he was a hunter. She related how difficult it was to avoid the hunter as well as lava, and the other boys in the game did not help plan ways to navigate, but just ran which made everyone else run, herself included. The game scared her, she whispered, because she often “got dead”.
As children described their play around the theme of danger, bad guys were overwhelmingly feared as the main source of violence and death, and death was something to strongly avoid. Bad guys made wars happen, shot guns, set fires, dropped bombs and stabbed people with swords. They also kidnapped kids and murdered people. The ultimate solution to this problem, almost every boy thought, was to eliminate the bad guys, or as one boy so emphatically proclaimed, “the evil doers”. Good guys were the people for this job. All boys identified themselves as good guys.
The idea was that if the bad guys get killed by the good guys first, then the good guys won’t die and all the people will be saved.
Girls worry about bad guys too, but they worried more personally that bad guys would kidnap or murder them. Their solutions were more immediate, such as staying close to grown-ups, running away and screaming, or finding a very good place to hide.
Not one girl in this study volunteered that she might consider herself a good guy who would kill or fight a bad guy.
Many girls reported that their strategy for keeping themselves safe from the things that they feared was to either run away, yell for help, or to hide. Most boys reported that they would choose to fight or kill the offending party in order to keep themselves safe and to protect others.
Most children felt that violence was bad and that only bad guys did it. Definitions of violence included war, bombs,shooting guns, hitting, kicking, tripping or tackling someone, stabbing with spears or swords, and wrestling. For the most part, children did not readily differentiate between real life acts of violence (reality) and media and movie violence (pretend).
Children did understand that pretend violence in their play was “not real”, but many confessed to sometimes feeling uneasy with this kind of play, because, as one child articulated, sometimes it felt like it “could be real”.
Every child noted that boys play at violence often, and that girls didn’t. Each claimed they knew this because it was what they had observed or experienced. When I asked why they thought boys did this, girls’ initial answers were often that boys must like it.
Boys expressed unequivocally that boys are brave and that it is their job to keep themselves and other people safe.
One six year old girl, Samantha, was explaining her view to me on the matter of violence. We were across the table from each other in the kitchen, and it was getting close to the end of our interview time. Samantha was pursing her lips, swinging her legs that did not reach the floor on the adult sized chair, and then she tossed her long brown hair over her shoulders, looked at me with a slight smile and said that she thought it is just the way boys are. She said that maybe they don’t know what peace is and they think peace is war. She looked at me, and she started to giggle a bit and then exclaimed, “Because maybe they think that peace is war and war is peace!” She laughed quickly, and then as her face melted into a serious pose, she shook her head sadly, and said she just didn’t know why they could think that. We ended the interview on this note, looking at each other from across the table and shaking our heads at this thought.
One curly headed and quite serious Daniel, a six year old boy, told me that he thought that girls didn’t like to play games about violence because maybe they were afraid that if they play it they will have to play it again and again and again, and that it would be too hard for them. He had been explaining to me that he felt safer when he played at killing bad guys, because he didn’t want any bad guys around… because they would kill good guys. He identified himself strongly as a good guy. (Daniel was a person who spent much of his play time on his own, eliminating imagined bad guys with bombs and other assorted and imagined weapons, from our yard). He stated that he he really didn’t like violence, and that he thought boys didn’t really like it, but that first they probably felt scared, and the violence of killing bad guys made them feel safer. He felt it was something he had to do in order to be safe.
Many children responded to the question of why they thought boys and girls felt differently about playing violence, that they thought that it was because God made boys and girls differently.
One bright eyed and charming boy explained to me that all people are different. He said some people have short hair, some have long hair, but they all definitely have heads. He philosophically added that he thought life just made boys and girls different.
Another boy, Collier, who had named God as the reason why boys and girls were different in the matter of violence, became quite thoughtful. He cocked his head to the side and peered at me through his glasses and said there was just one thing he did not understand about the whole thing. He reasoned that God does not like violence. He felt sure of this. He looked down at his hands for a moment, and then reassumed his head to the side position, looked intently at me, and very quietly asked… then why would God make boys to like violence? He felt that this didn’t make any sense at all. We both agreed that this was a good question. He added that he knew that this was what I must be studying about, and he smiled at the thought that we were both interested in this subject. The interview ended on this question.
One girl reported that when she gets angry at her friends that she will walk right up to them, get very close, and give them put-downs. She also reported that she sometimes does mean teasing or taunting, but from across the yard or room. Another girl thought that screaming in another person’s face was very useful to do sometimes. Some boys reported that they might run at another child to scare them about something they are doing in order to get them to stop… or they might pull back their fist to let the other person know they mean it.
Other aggression techniques reported by boys and girls alike were; grabbing behaviors, or holding on really hard to something that someone else was tying to grab away. Every child mentioned that resorting to hurting or hitting behaviors with other children were not acceptable; that this was something they felt bad about doing, but that it did happen. Some people explained that these things happened “on accident”.
When children described their danger games to me, the underlying theme of death permeated the structure and the rules of the games, and gender roles related to safely avoiding death were very clear, and explained to me quite matter of factly.
The boys were either older big brothers, teenagers or the fathers. Their job was to fight wild animals, or guard a nest full of babies, mothers and princesses, who were female. The females sometimes guarded the family while the males were hunting for food or scouting for danger. If danger came in the form of a fierce aimal who might eat them, or a bad guy who would murder them, it was the female’s job to scream for help. It was very clear that the females never had access to weapons in these games, though sometimes they might hit or kick or scratch to defend themselves and their younger charges . Weapons were wielded by males , who, upon hearing the alert calls, would come running back to the nest to shoot, spear or bomb the offending party away.
Sam, often a leader in play, who had been explaining one of these mixed gender games to me, declared that he was often so relieved when the game was over. He felt mostly scared during the game, because his job was to keep everyone alive and safe. He said that everyone feels mostly relaxed when the game is over, but mostly he did. “Because it’s more fun doing not the danger game. After the danger games we’re so tired. Once we get tired…once I get tired of the game I tell everybody else that the game’s over..”
The only boy who did not admit to having any fears, Dane, was a boy who I had observed to be obsessed with playing violence out at school. He also had a habit of putting himself in dangerous situations, climbing too high, riding downhill on trikes so fast and out of control that he often crashed , hurting himself as well as others. He was quick to anger and to strike out at other children.
His parents were concerned about him at home as well. He liked to carry sharp objects in his hands or in his pockets, and sometimes would hurt himself or others. They reported that he had been exposed to some extremely violent adult films, as well as a graphically violent video game that his older brother was permitted to play often. Dane had told his mother that he often had pictures in his mind… of bloody faces.
When Dane and I had our interview, he insisted that he loved to look at bloody faces. He thought they were cool. He also said that his grandfather had been in a war, and that was how he died. He told me that he was sure that when he grew up, that he would become a soldier and get killed in a war as well.
He declared openly that this was why he was so interested in war and violence, because he was trying to figure out what it was going to be like to kill and to die.
My interview with him was short. He had a hard time keeping still to talk, and seemed quite agitiated. When I told him he could go, and added that I hoped he would grow up to stay alive and be safe, he looked at me and smiled. He quickly kissed me on the cheek and bounced out to the yard to have a snack.
This is part two in a series titled “The Inner Life of Boys”.
Part Three: Conclusion; What Can We Learn From This and What Does This Mean about and for Kids and the Future?
Part One: Pushing the Monster Away https://cthebean.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/pushing-the-monster-away-the-inner-life-of-boys/