Last week was the sixteenth time that we marked International Gun Destruction Day. Once a year children in practically every country in the world can exchange a broken toy gun for a cookie and a glass of soda pop.
There are a number of circumstances complicating the “peaceful” existence of military toys. First, most such toys, especially sophisticated games, can be hazardous to players. A shot fired from a toy Kalashnikov can pierce a bottle at quite a distance. Of course, every toy of this kind must have a certificate of conformity, and obtaining one involves the ministries of health, science and education, and the Derzhspozhyvstandart Consumer Standards State Committee. However, according to Liudmyla Hladun, head of the Toy Department at the Teaching Methods Center of the Ministry of Health, imported toys are also subject to a psychological-pedagogical examination done by experts on a voluntary basis, meaning that such examinations are rarely carried out. In addition, a considerable number of such products find their way to young consumers without being duly certified. “Most products sold in markets aren’t certified,” notes Liudmyla Hladun, adding that several years ago some 210 children sustained body injuries playing with toy guns that fire plastic pellets.
How do such toy weapons affect a child’s psyche? Psychologists offer varying opinions. Natalia Bastun, senior research fellow with the Institute of Psychology at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, says that such games tend to relieve children of aggression, since such aggressiveness appears to dissipate during playtime with such toys. A small boy may well benefit from playing such games, imagining himself as a hero and victor. Furthermore, boys who play war games prefer to act as friendlies, as good guys combating and getting the better of bad ones. Waging such “wars” is about as harmful as acting out The Little Red Riding-hood where the hunters cut open the wolf’s belly.
On the other hand, military toys can often cultivate traits best left undeveloped. Why would our children want warfare? Natalia Bastun believes it’s because they want to follow in grownups’ footsteps, playing at living in the world in which they actually exist. Games are a reflection of reality. Our history is filled with wars, and our small boys’ desire to use weapons is genetically programmed.
There is a special kind of military toy referred to as historical. Ukrainian stores offer an assortment of do-it-yourself model kits reflecting various national military-technological achievements from practically every historical period. Aimed primarily at encouraging children’s creativity, every set contains a historical reference. The sales assistants at Kyiv’s House of Toys Store say that one action set called “Prison” is especially popular.