Toys of Vigilance


   SOPHIA - 23

Synopsis:  In a world filled with news of war and violence, where killing and death come into the  living rooms of millions of Americans, how do you manage the issue of violence and non-violence with a child?   What filters or censors do you install?  What guidelines do you use to distinguish positive from negative aggressive behavior.   In this G-Ma story, find out how Matt and Sarah create their own heroes, and how they use their imaginations to counter the impact of a world trying to mesmerize them into thinking violence means death and destruction.   Parents of Vigilance know there are ways to manage violence.  Learn how you can too.



      Matt, you stop that this instant!” 

     My older daughter, furious, hurled the reprimand across two church pews at her six-year-old son.  She was a mother bear, bristling at the Beast of Terror who had her boy in his grip.  She charged out of her seat next to me and was in his face, growling not just at him, but at the Beast of Terror who had wormed his way into the six-year-old’s fingertips.

         Matt slid his scrawny, lanky body off the edge of the pew and onto the church floor to escape his mother’s wrath.  He knew how to push his mother’s buttons.  Cocking his thumb and extending his forefinger to illustrate a gun, and then dropping his thumb as if it were the hammer, was a defiant act of violence. He was shooting his mom!  To escape his non-violent mom’s wrath, he slithered over the edge of the pew like a garden snake sliding off a tree limb onto the grass.  He offered her his Cheshire cat grin, the one that said:  “Mom, I  was “just playing…just pretending.”  It didn’t work.  Even the space in his handsome smile where he had just pulled out one of his front baby teeth offered no humor.    He was in deep trouble.   Violence, of any sort, was banned for all family members, and any and all such acts were immediately corrected.

       Catholic church time is always more demanding before Easter because during the Lenten season there are more obligations to attend church.  My guess was that Matt had acted out because he’d had enough church and was bored.
        For a six-year-old, Matt is an unusually sensitive lad.  He does think and talk about God, Mary, ‘Lusifur’ (as he spells the devil’s name in a recent story he made up about the devil and Jesus).  He also makes a half-hearted attempt to follow the Mass.  When Matt was three he had thrown his arms across the church door during Lenten season to bar his parents from entering and yelled: “No more Jesus.”
        Now, my vigilant daughter was seriously (and visibly) upset. 
       Matt performed one of the biggest ‘no no’s’ he could right in front of his mom…and…while in church.  He “played killing!”   I heard Matt’s Voice as he replied to his mother’s fury “I know! I know!”

   Matt, his sister, Sarah (two-years younger) and Angus, their nine-month-old brother, are not allowed to play with weapons.  Their house is gun free, tank free, jet fighter free, soldier free, sword free (except for cardboard ‘tubes’ and balloons that they occasionally get to whack around) and even cowboy and Indian free.   Matt’s, Sarah’s and Angus’ home is a “No Violence Zone,” a demilitarized zone.
       Outside the home, however, the Beast of Toy Violence stalks. 
       I recall when Matt, then five and Sarah, three, were playing in Tompkins Square Park.  Matt was racing around enjoying the company of his playground pals.  Sarah was attempting to keep up.
       “Hey Matt, what Power Ranger do you want to be? And where do you want to fly?” Nate, a year or more older than Matt, was in his face.  “Yeah, Matt, pick one.  Sarah can play and be ‘Time Force Pink Ranger’ if she wants.  I’m gonna be ‘Beetle Ranger Red.’” Nate twirled about sweeping his jacket over his shoulders like a ranger cape.

       Matt calmly looked up at Nate and the other boys.  I was waiting in anticipation, what would he do?  Would he be tempted to go for the violence or not?   After carefully thinking about it, Matt replied.  “I’m going to be Christopher Robin, and I’m going to protect the Hundred Acre Wood.”
       Silence fell.  For a New York City playground park, that’s unusual!  Finally, Nate said: “Well, sure, Matt, Christopher Robin can come along with our Rangers, too.  Sarah can be Pink Ranger………. or ….. Piglet.”
        I was proud of Matt.  The Power Rangers are giant temptations.   According to market research data, they were the bestselling action figure toys of the nineties as well as the year 2000, and stood ahead of Pokeman, Star Wars, Transformers, and the old standby, GI Joe.  The Rangers are on the softer side of violence.  They represent a special group of teenagers that uses martial arts skills and high tech weapons to battle the forces of evil.  Their weapons and constant fighting make them off limits for Matt and Sarah.  I was glad Matt found a way to employ a non-violent icon to play the game.  He had a “superhero,” from Winnie the Poo.
        Last summer’s hit, Spider Man, brought about a resurgence in superheroes.  Superheroes fit in the non-violent paradigm.  When the kids were still toddlers, Matt’s mom made the family red cotton capes and we all took turns ‘flying’ around the small apartment attempting not to collide with one another.  Matt remarked,  “G-Ma, mommy said I could pretend I am Spiderman ‘cuz he doesn’t use guns.  Why do you think he doesn’t use weapons?”
      “Hmmm…let me see…Matt, I think he has some kind of magic in his hands like a real spider does to spin webs to help him confound his enemies.”
       Sarah, of course, was Wonder Woman.  She was thrilled girls weren’t excluded from playing superheroes.  The family favorite Superhero is Spiderman since his ‘weapons’ consist of weaving webs out of his special gloves.  The kids watch Discovery Channel and National Geographic and relate to how creatures defend themselves.  
       With few exceptions, almost every aspect of Matt’s life involves non-violence - from his parents’ activities, his toys, the television and videos he is allowed to watch and his activities.  His home front is designed to guard him against the violence that exists outside his door and on the playgrounds.    He is being trained to make the non-violent rather than violent choice.

Guns were part of play when I was little

         I grew up differently.  Violence was part of my childhood.   I had two older brothers and lived in Montana.  I played soldiers, cowboys and Indians, gangsters, cops and robbers and had a lot of the equipment and costumes to go with the themes.   Violence was an accepted way of life, and non-violence was considered an unacceptable way, limited to priests and radicals.    It is hard sometimes for me to appreciate the vigilance my daughter and her husband take to build the non-violence wall between their children and a world that is riddled with “violent temptations.”
        My husband, a former U.S. Marine and combat veteran and I have been very careful to  honor our daughter’s and son-in-law’s protocols.  We avoid any affirmation of violence (with the exception of self defense) and avoid toys that suggest or imply violence.

Patriotic Rescue Hero

        At the moment, the favorite “non-violent action toys” are the Rescue Heroes figures.  Days after Nine Eleven, I was up at the big Toys R Us store on 42nd Street.  There was a frenzy of customers buying up a plastic NYFD figure made by Fisher Price/Rescue Heroes (RH).  The Billy Blazes firefighter was my grandson’s first RH.
        I was relieved (and Matt’s vigilant parents were even more so) to learn the whole series of Rescue Heroes characters are according to company literature: “nonviolent figures designed to stimulate a child’s imagination and sense of adventure.” 
       The Rescue Heroes--whose mission is always to help and rescue—offer an alternative to traditional action figures that rely on super human powers and weapons.  Rescue Hero characters rely on positive human virtues such as courage, perseverance, resourcefulness, and nonviolent problem solving. Their “moral message” is to help children understand that concern, compassion, and sensitivity for others is not only right and desirable, but also admirable and “cool.”  (Link To RH site: to check them out)

Rescue Heroes rely on positive human virtues and nonviolent problem solving

Matt as Rip Rockefeller for Halloween

       Post Nine Eleven, Matt and Sarah have been given at least twenty of the figures plus a host of the RH assistant pets.  Sarah’s favorite is Ariel Flyer.  Ariel is a wilderness veterinarian with a pet rescue hawk.  She also pilots a helicopter.   Matt has many favorites, but his two most played with are Billy Blazes and Jake Justice.  Last Halloween Matt dressed up as Rip Rockefeller.
       On the days I am fortunate enough to pick him up from school, he entertains Sarah and me with supercharged tales involving the RH.  One afternoon he said:  “G-Ma, I’m going to make up my own special Rescue Hero. What do you think it will be?”  

Sarah's favorite Rescue Hero Ariel and Ariel Flyer

       He skipped along beside me, prancing like a young dear on a forest floor of concrete.  He was holding onto the swinging strap of his backpack that I had half-slung on my already overloaded arm.   I pushed Sarah in her brightly colored stroller, her “Cinderella carriage” as she said.
      “Well, ‘super-nogin’” I paused.  I nicknamed him “super-nogin” since he was born with a bigger than average head compared with the size of his body.  His body has since grown into proportion with his head, but the nickname remains. 
       “Hmmmmm….let me think.  Hmmm…I know. I’ll bet it’s a dinosaur!  Yes, A T. Rex, or one of those nasty-looking raptors.”
       “No, G-Ma!”  Sarah stuck her head around, reminding us that even though she was riding ahead she was a vital part of the game.  “Matt’s new Rescue Hero will be a…….. umm….a T. Rex!” 
      Matt laughed, mostly at his little sister’s copycat response.  Sarah often interjected just to remind us she is a player. 
      “You’re both wrong.  It’s an‘electro-magnet robot.  And his pet is a saber tooth cat.  They both are stronger and smarter and better equipped than all the other Rescue Heroes.”

Rescue Heroes Command Center

       He pulled away from my grasp and planted himself squarely in front of the stroller.  He shoved his hands on his hips, cocked his head and put on his “I-sure-showed-you-what-a- great-RH-I-invented!”   Matt isn’t short on ego.
        He continued… “E.M.R. – get it, G-Ma? – for Electro-Magnet Robot – It can even take control of the weather!”  His blue eyes danced as his mind sparked information to his tongue.   “So it’s in charge of typhoons, hurricanes, tidal waves.  E.M.R. needs the saber tooth cat, ‘Lava’ to be in charge of volcanoes and any other nature problems.”
         I nodded and started to move forward.  Matt fell to my side, walking sideways so I could see his face.  “So, Matt, how does your new Rescue Hero Robot save people?  Does he have any special equipment?  Let’s hear it.”  I was teasing my clever grandson.  I knew he had it all worked out.
       “Oh, G-Ma, of course he does.  The neatest thing that he has, that is different about him from all the other RH is that he is a ‘time-traveler’.”
       “What’s a t-time-traveler, Matt?” Sarah was on the edge of the stroller seat. Her exceptionally pretty head was poised to hear what her big brother said.

        “Oh, Sarah, he can go backward or forward in time.  When he goes forward in time he has a super-squid pet that goes on land or water. (Matt got that idea from a Discovery program showing computer-generated animals of the future). When he goes back in time he’s got his saber tooth cat.  He doesn’t need all the regular stuff like ropes, hoses, climbing stuff that the other Heroes use.  He has his special ‘lectro-magnet powers…..”  He paused, as though he was angry that he had forgotten some vital information…   “And, I know…..the super squid shoots out super-strong webs like a spider does.  That’s how it helps rescue people.” He strutted along beside me quite pleased with his new creation. Matt’s somewhat scrawny chest was shoved forward as far as he could muster, a bit of Napoleon and Einstein all wrapped up in one little boy finding his non-violent niche in a world of violence.
       Sarah was ready to throw her two-cents-worth into the make-your-Rescue-Hero-pot.  “I want a girl rescue hero who can go back and forward in time too.  Mine is a Unicorn.  Her name is Eunice.  She has a dragon for backwards and umm….. ah……a….an angel to help her in the forward. Eunice has three horns.  They make webs and she has a tail for a rope to pull up peoples.”   Sarah wasn’t going to be outdone by her older brother.

 Sarah's made up Rescue Hero: "Eunice" a three-horned unicorn time-traveler

       “In the FUTURE, Sarah, not forwards, even though the future is going forward.  You say ‘future’.”  Matt gently corrected.
       Sarah was happy Matt didn’t make fun about her unicorn Rescue Hero.  Her chocolate eyes gleamed with excitement her brother accepted her design.   “Matt, wow, that is so great.  Can I play with your new cat?  Can he make friends with Ariel’s rescue hawk?”
      “Well, it’s not made yet, Sarah.  But, when it is, you can play with it.” Matt magnanimously gave her a  ‘thumbs- up.’
        I am always gratified at Matt’s generous attitude toward his little sister.  He serves as a strong role model, always trying to show his concern and sensitivity.  It’s good for Sarah, and will be great for Angus to learn from.   I call his concerns for others, “Matt-isms.”
       Credit for Matt’s ability to balance non-violence over violence goes in part to Fischer Price’s Rescue Heroes.  Instead of guns, knives, lasers, etc., the RH use the tools of their trade.  For example, Wendy Waters is ‘armed’ with a water hose. Billy Blazes has a dual power axe. They have moving parts, swinging arms, flashing lights, some have Voice Tech Video Mission Rescue with Voices that say, “Leave No One Behind” and sounds and video images.   Others are equipped with ropes, tools, medical supplies depending on what character in real life they are copied from.  They are sturdy, colorful and I love the fact that they work together to help each other.
       I remember pre-RH (before Rescue Heroes). Matt, Sarah and I were at the park.  It was a sweltery, hot summer day and the park fountain was not operating.  Two of Matt’s friends from school were playing with squirt guns and couldn’t fill them at the ‘out of order’ water fountains.  So, ‘boys will be boys’, and as most boys, at some time, will pretend to use a toy gun, even a stick, or a finger, and in this case, a squirt gun.   They started to ‘shoot’ at each other.  Matt was invited to play robbers and jail with them. 
       “G-Ma, can I play, too.  I want to play robbers and jail.”  Matt knew he was on dangerous grounds.  Both he and Sarah didn’t own squirt guns.  They had an elaborate squirting-hose-back pack contraption that was big and bulky that their mom got at the Fire Department of New York’s store.  But, after awhile the novelty wore off and Matt asked for his own water ‘squirter’ he called it.  He knew better than to use the taboo word ‘gun’.  But, his mom held firm.  No water gun. She did bend a little and last summer Matt and Sarah had fun with animal squirters - "Fun in the Sun" animal and fish squirters.  They were equipped with a push button in place of a gun trigger that when pressed would eject a stream of water out of their mouths. After a while, Matt said they were 'baby' toys and should be used in the bath tub.

"Fun in the Sun" squirters

Realistic toy squirt guns

      “Well, Matt, I’ll tell you what.  I’ll use some of the water from our water jug and you and the boys can fill up the water squirters (aka guns) and see how far you can shoot the water.”  The minute the words were out of my mouth, I realized I’d agreed he could play with the pretend weapon.  But, now it became more of a fire hose than a rifle or revolver.
       Later, I thought about the two different ways parents can chose to bring up their children—either endorsing violence or endorsing non-violence.  
       I grew up under a violence-endorsement umbrella.
       But, I have learned through my daughter’s non-violence vigilance, to respect the idea that a child can learn there is choice, that he or she can understand the distinction between the two.
       I also knew there was a tendency for toys to influence the behavior of a child.  There are two levels of aggression—one that offers no intention to harm, such as wrestling, karate (defense), Spiderman type aggression—and two, aggression geared to harm, such as GI-Joe and any toy with weapons that inflict pain and suffering, or death.

       That evening, I checked out the facts through my favorite info-site ,  I found statistics from The National Toy Council showing that children as young as five are able to tell the difference between real aggression--which frightens, them--and aggressive play--which they see as harmless fun.  Contrary to what I thought, only a minority of toys are action figures (8.1%) and 1 percent are toy weapons.  Video games with violent themes represent 6% of all toys.

Realistic toy guns are "no no's"

Toy guns are trashed in several cities

        Realistic toy guns are not even thought of in Matt’s house.  Many cities have banned the sale of them and some even their manufacture.  Matt’s vigilant parents know, however, the value of play and encourage it in the house and out of the house.  Matt, Sarah, and, now, Angus have a wide range of toys and some of them allow for the creation of imaginary worlds as well as some aggressive play.  Matt is allowed to watch Discovery Channel and doesn’t bat an eye when he sees a pack of raging hyenas take down and devour a lion.
      Matt’s dad often wrestles with him and this somewhat appeases Matt’s desire for rough and tumble.  Matt has taken several karate classes. Unfortunately, his school doesn’t have a play area at yard time so he is physically restricted during the school hours.  He also uses his energy to climb rocks, a way to divert aggressive behavior in positive ways.
      Matt has a lot of energy as most young children his age.  It can be channeled to violence or non-violence.   I know he has a lot of it because he skips so energetically all the way home from school.  He’s as frisky as a newborn colt.
      After the squirt contest at the park, Matt scooted about and trumpeted in his shrill Voice much like a bandy rooster crowing and racing around the farmyard. “Wow, Yes, Yes, G-Ma!  Sarah did beat Ivan and Willie, but she didn’t squirt her gun farther than me.”  Matt’s elation was evidenced by his glistening sky-blue eyes and, of course, by his braggadocio.  “Sarah can’t tell me ‘girls rule’, can she, G-Ma?”
     “Well, Matt, she may not have the longest distance today, but her quick thinking allowed you to participate.  Sometimes, the real winner is not always the one who comes in first.”  Sarah had suggested instead of squirting each other in a “gun battle” the boys see whose squirter could go the farthest.  It was her quick thinking that put Matt in the game.
      “So, Matt, girls do  rule.  I won. G-Ma just said so.”  Sarah was triumphant and skipped around Matt and me, her strong lean legs lifting her to a state of near flight.  
      I quickly reached out and took the kids’ hands and started to head in the direction of their apartment.  “You both are winners in my book, little ones.”

Some children are more vulnerable to "aggressive shows" than others

      I didn’t say they were the Non-Violent Winners, but they were.
      Part of the reason nonviolence is so well ingrained in Matt and Sarah, I believe, is that television and TV news are closely monitored at Matt and Sarah’s apartment.  I believe the statistics that show watching violent television shows and news filled with violence affects children’s behavior.
        Some children are naturally more vulnerable to “aggressive news” or “aggressive shows,” and their feelings of anxiety can be heightened by news and scenes they don’t understand.
       What appears as the “innocent news” can be a plethora of violence to a child.  If a parent were to sit with their children and patiently explain the possible reasons for the events being viewed, then and only then do I believe a child under eight or nine (depending on the child’s maturity) should be allowed to watch certain programs including the news.
     Some of the statistics regarding television and violence in “TV Facts and figures about our TV habits” are startling and some are not so surprising.  For example:  

                                      “TV Promotes Violence”

1)      Number of violent acts the average American child sees on TV by age 18: 200,000

2)      Number of murders witnessed by children on television by the age 18: 16,000

3)      Percentage of youth violence directly attributable to TV viewing: 10

4)      Percentage of Americans who believe TV and moves are responsible for juvenile crime: 73

5)      Percentage of children polled who said they felt “upset” or “scared” by violence on television: 91

6)      Percentage of programs that show the long-term consequences of violence: 16

7)     Percentage of programs that emphasize an anti-violence theme: 4

8)  Go to:  for more statistics and interesting television information



Television is closely monitored

      The only television news channel played while the kids are up is NY1 and that is for the weather forecast.  Matt and Sarah are not among these above statistics.  However, they do attend school where they do hear “news.”

       My husband, G-Pa, related to me an event that happened when he was taking Matt to his rock climbing class at Chelsea Piers.  He and Matt’s daddy were talking about the situation in Iraq before the war started, attempting not to be too specific since Matt’s ears were undoubtedly flapping.  Matt was listening and proffered a question that startled them both.
      “G-Pa, who will win the war?”  Silence ensued.  G-Pa said, “Maybe your daddy should answer that question which by the way is an excellent question.”  Matt’s daddy said, “No one wins at war, Matt.”   And that was an excellent answer.  However, after hearing about the conversation, I knew Matt must have some unanswered questions buzzing around in his ‘supernogin’.  I again went to my old pal   to look up any ‘help’ if Matt asked me any such question.   I am now ‘armed’ and ready.

Mister Rogers helps kids deal with scary news and feel good

       To my pleasant surprise, one of the references I found was that from my older daughter’s (Matt and Sarah’s mom) best TV friend, Fred Rogers.  He was the only TV personage she actually kissed the image of while watching his show.  His ‘neighborhood’ was the safest in the world.  Please go to  and click on ‘Helping Kids Deal With Scary News ‘ and read the letter he wrote to help parents discuss war during the 1991 War with Iraq.  His timeless wisdom is pertinent today.  There are many other excellent topics as well to investigate if you need to soothe your child’s fears – or to help you to answer their questions.  Another good site is  .

        One of the best ways to manage the non-violence versus violence input into a child’s mind is by thinking like a Parent of Vigilance.   A Parent of Vigilance becomes a filter, not a censor, of information.    He or she is there to explain, and to control.

 Story-time before bed is a nightly joy

      One way Matt and Sarah’s Parents of Vigilance handle the balance between violence and non-violence is reading bedtime stories.
       Reading out loud before bed has become a nightly joy for Matt and Sarah’s mom and dad.  I was impressed to learn the books chosen are adventure as well as fantasy books.  Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz are a few of the series they’ve read.   When there are violent acts in the story—the Wicked Witch gets her head lopped off by Dorothy—the Parents of Vigilance can explain, mollify, or filter the information so it is absorbed in the least violent way.
        I believe filtering rather than censorship is the best policy.   If you take away all opportunities for a child to come in contact with any sort of weapon, you severely limit their exposure to adventure.   There is no adventure without danger, or some ‘bad guy’, or evil force and many times there is not much hope of overcoming that (whatever it may be) without using a sword, etc.  There is a moral context in that one would be fighting for the good side.  This is where the Parent of Vigilance can be the balance point.  Here’s an example.

There are scary monsters in stories and movies  so that Courage can overcome Fear

       “G-Ma why does there always have to be a scary monster, or bad person in most of the stories and videos”?   Matt asked me after watching “Pocahontas” video.   He hates any conflict in a story or movie and when he was smaller would get off the big, cozy ‘daddy chair’, and hide behind it until the scary part was over.  Sarah, somewhat enraptured as she watches videos, just sits there with her mouth open like a baby bird waiting for its momma to drop in a worm for breakfast.
        On several occasions I’ve answered both Matt’s and Sarah’s questions as to why does there has to be a monster, scary person or situation or conflict in all the stories and videos and movies they read and see.   I tell them “good always wins out” and there can’t be good without the bad or evil.  Often their G-Pa and I remind them the themes of the stories and movies involve the characters using Right Actions, having Courage over Fear and honoring Conviction or Hope.  We do our best to affirm their Parents of Vigilance non-violent position, with which we agree.
 As Grandparents of Vigilance, we also know children want to play at being the hero of something.   I did when I was little.   Often, heroes must use violence to win.  

Violence has 'wrongness' built into it

       Violence is a term that has ‘wrongness’ built into it.  Violence is the wrongful use of physical force against other people. I believe that bad toys do not make children into bad people, but bad parenting and a host of other psychological and environmental factors do.  On the other hand, vigilant parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and other caregivers can steer their children’s choices for play toward toys such as Rescue Heroes.  When a questionable situation occurs in which weapons or fighting is involved, they can discuss its rightness and wrongness. 
      Matt, Sarah, and soon Angus are on the right path. They are learning balance between violence and non-violence.
       They have been taught that violence is not tolerated in their house and family and elsewhere. They are not living in an unreal world since they both do know other children play with toy guns and weapons.  Those toys are not for them but they are aware of their existence.  They do not live in a cocoon but in a loving protected environment.  They may choose another path to go when they grow up, but they have been given a foundation of nonviolence rooted in loving care by their vigilant parents, grandparents and their schoolteachers.

     Right now Matt and Sarah are not only playing with the Rescue Heroes and watching the show on television, they are creating new heroes. Their imaginations are limitless, their reading voracious.  I don’t believe they have missed anything by not playing GI Joe or Powder Puff Girls. Their garden is filled with healthy flowers and their toy box filled with healthy toys.
      To all you parent, grandparents, uncles, aunts and other care givers, I pass on the words of the Rescue Heroes (as parroted by Matt and Sarah), “Think like a Rescue Hero, think safe.”  Help give your children a good play foundation so they will be better equipped to play the ‘game’ of life.

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