Before letting your kid go to a friend’s house for a playdate, you might check with the child’s parents about pets, TV, food allergies, and, of course, pickup time. But do you ever think to ask about whether they have guns in the house—and, if so, how they store them?
Ashlyn Melton, a mom in Louisiana, wishes she had asked the parents of her son Noah’s friend that question. A gun owner herself, Melton took the safety precautions she expected all gun owners to do: She kept her firearms and ammunition separate and locked away, and she taught Noah, 13, about gun safety. Nonetheless, while on a playdate in December 2011, Noah was accidentally shot and killed by his friend, who playfully put a gun to Noah’s head (not realizing it was loaded) and pulled the trigger. “I didn’t ask how they kept their guns,” says Melton, whose son would have turned 16 this week. “I assumed, and now Noah’s not here.”
Her story is tragic, but unfortunately, the circumstances are not uncommon:
• One out of three homes with children in the U.S. has a gun.
• Nearly 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns.
• Nine children and teens are shot every day in gun-related accidents.
In her interview with Parents, Melton says parents are often hesitant to bring up the subject of gun safety, especially if they live in an area where many neighbors own a firearm. “I want the stigma that, ‘I can’t ask them about guns—that’s personal’ to go away. It’s not personal. If my child is going to your house, I have the right to know.”
Jennie Lintz, director of public health and safety for the Brady Campaign, tells Parents there’s no need for this conversation to be awkward. In fact, 93% of respondents in a national survey said they would not be offended if another parent asked them about firearms. The Brady campaign offers suggestions for bringing up the subject seamlessly, like mentioning a gun-related incident in the news or a recent conversation you’ve had with your child about gun safety. Possessing firearms shouldn’t be a disqualifier for a playdate, provided the family keeps them locked, unloaded, and out of sight and reach of children, with ammunition kept separately in a safe.
Melton views her tragic personal loss as an opportunity to educate others about the importance of gun safety in the home. “Noah’s life ended in 8th grade, and his memory is still there,” she says. “I don’t want Noah’s memory. I want Noah. And I’m worried about the parents who don’t think to ask about gun safety. I was one of those parents.”
“Teen Mom” reality star, Leah Messer from Charleston, West Virgina, received some backlash after she admitted on Twitter that she lets her kids play with toy guns, according to Radar Online. These days, schools are cracking down. Many are prohibiting kids from bringing toy guns to school, making gun hand signals during play, or even eating a sandwich into the shape of a gun. We’d like to know: Do you think it’s wrong for kids to play with toy guns? Share your experiences in the comments below for a chance to be quoted in an upcoming issue of Parents.
Will you be taking your kids to a movie this holiday season? If so, how will you decide what’s appropriate for them to see?
A movie’s rating—whether it is rated G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America–is intended to help guide that decision. But a new study, published earlier this month in the journal Pediatrics, finds serious flaws in the rating system when it comes to on-screen violence.
Recent PG-13 movies have contained at least as much violence as R-rated movies, according to the study, while violence in movies overall has increased dramatically: “Our research found that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and that gun violence in PG-13 films has increased to the point where it recently exceeded the rate in R-rated films,” the study concludes (emphasis mine).
Making matters more confusing, Entertainment Weekly points out ways in which the MPAA ratings can seem arbitrary. The Dark Knight Risesgot a PG-13 despite its violence and dark themes, while the new Judi Dench film Philomenaoriginally received an R (later changed on appeal to a PG-13) for using the F-word twice.
The MPAA defended itself to Entertainment Weekly by saying its decisions reflect the values and concerns of parents across the country—hence, a restrictive rating for foul language. No doubt this is true, and I appreciate such warnings, but what about violence? Are most parents OK with that for young children (or even 13 year olds) who might be drawn to a PG-13 film in part because the rating signals a more mature movie? Personally, I am much more concerned about my kids watching movies filled with violence and its aftermath than I am about characters dropping a few F-bombs (though those do concern me as well). I am guessing I am not alone in this.
The Pediatrics study did find a slight decline in violence in G- and PG-rated movies—good news for those of us with young kids—but the huge rise in PG-13-movie violence is troubling. These movies are not restricted the way R-rated movies are, and the rating is just an advisory.
The study suggests we should be worried about how much violence our children see in movies, because “virtually all scientific and health organizations have concluded that media violence can increase aggression.”
For decades, researchers have studied the effects of exposure to violent media on aggression in children and youth. The evidence from these studies has been reviewed numerous times, and nearly all researchers have reached the same conclusion: exposure to media violence can increase aggression. After reviewing the available evidence, 6 public health organizations (the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association) endorsed a joint statement that concluded: “The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.”
Where does all of this leave us parents? To state what should be obvious: Do your research and don’t rely just on a film’s MPAA rating. Many great resources, most of them free, offer a more in-depth look at the movies our kids might be seeing, allowing us to make educated decisions based on our own personal values and what we feel is right or wrong for our kids to see.
The best of these services look not just at the potential kid-related problems in a movie—whether it has bad words or exposed skin, for instance—but also explore whether kids will actually like the film (so we can avoid the wholesome-but-boring offerings) as well as how we might use the movie to spark family discussions about important issues. Common Sense Media’s movie review section is one such resource, as is the blog Movie Mom, by Nell Minow (whom I used to edit, in full disclosure). At both of these sites and others like them, parents can find detailed, nuanced, and very helpful reviews that go beyond a mere letter to help us make movie-watching decisions that are right for our kids.
An 11-year-old North Carolina girl shot and killed her stepfather when the gun went off accidentally while he was showing it to her. In Wisconsin, a 6-year-old accidentally shot his 4-year-old sister; thankfully, her injuries are not life-threatening.
And so it goes. It seems like there is another such story in the news every day.
I am not here to advocate taking away anyone’s guns or restricting our right to bear arms. I am not even here to talk about the Navy Yard shootings and the seemingly endless spate of mass shootings we’ve endured lately.
Today I want to talk about gun safety–making guns safer and less able to be used accidentally (or on purpose, of course) when they fall into the wrong hands, especially little, curious hands.
Bring up the issue of gun laws, and one of the arguments you’re likely to hear from gun-rights activists uses cars as a comparison: Cars can kill people, and we haven’t outlawed them. Why restrict access to guns, when it is criminals and mentally sick people who kill people?
Let’s have that debate.
Yes, cars kill people, and yes, it is legal to manufacture, sell, buy, drive, and otherwise own and use an automobile. But cars kill people, and so we’ve taken common-sense steps to reduce the damage that cars do.
These efforts have sometimes been costly, sometimes been difficult, and sometimes have taken years to bear fruit—but we’ve done them. We’ve added seatbelts and mandated their use, and added airbags on top of that. We’ve manufactured car seats, made them safer, and instructed parents to use them longer. We train people and test them before giving them a license to drive, and insist that car owners buy insurance. We’ve cracked down on drunken driving, tightened the laws and penalties for driving under the influence, and undertaken major public-awareness campaigns to reduce its incidence. And we’ve also instituted punishment: My license can be suspended for infractions far less serious than killing or hurting someone.
So let’s talk about guns. The comparison is obvious, even if the path from here to there is difficult. Let’s use the power of legislative action and cultural influences to ensure that the guns we manufacture are as safe as possible and cannot go off accidentally or be used by the wrong people. Whether it’s adding new safety features, having pediatricians discuss gun safety with parents, or producing effective public-awareness-focused television commercials, there is a lot we can do to ensure that our children are safer around guns.
In some cases, the technology might not be ready for wide-scale implementation just yet, but it is amazing what American industry can do when faced with governmental requirements and marketplace pressures. Making guns with fingerprint scanners that can only be fired by their owners, for instance, may seem like science fiction but is a goal that is achievable.