Almost 70 percent of parents surveyed felt it was "never OK" for a parent to let a child play with toy guns. The parents who allowed their children to play with toy guns were more likely to be male, with male children, and Caucasian. Families with younger children and mothers were more likely to limit toy gun play.
In general, researchers found the gender and age of the child, gender of the parent, and race of the family factored significantly into parents' attitudes about allowing their children to play with toy guns.
"This study calls attention to an issue that has been largely unstudied - assessing community norms on toy gun play from the perspective of parents," says lead author Tina Cheng, M.D., Ph.D., director of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Cheng led the study while at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
According to Cheng, some studies have linked toy gun play with aggressive behavior, and some child health professionals counsel families to limit this type of activity. Concerns about toy guns also include potential confusion of toy guns with real guns and the dangers of toy guns with projectiles, all of which could potentially cause serious injury to both the child and others.
"There needs to be more study on the impact of toy gun play on child behavior. Understanding what parents think about issues like toy gun play and what their parenting practices are may be a first step in designing effective community-based prevention programs," said Cheng.
Researchers surveyed more than 900 parents and guardians visiting pediatricians' offices in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs. The survey included questions on child rearing attitudes and practices, lifestyle, and demographic information. More than half of all respondents were African-American, and the majority of the parents participating were mothers.
Researchers from the Children's National Medical Center; Children's Research Institute; George Washington University School of Medicine; National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development; and Coleman, Sachs and Thillairajah Pediatrics all contributed to this study.