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The Competent Parent: Too Young for War



Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Too Young for War

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I have a burning parenting question.
My 5 year old son was invited to our neighbors’ son’s 6th Birthday Party. The problem is that the party is at Laser Tag place, the parents of the child often don’t supervise their kids well, and we just don’t think it will be a safe event for our son to attend. Does that sound reasonable to you? How do we tell our son he can’t go?

 No Thanks

Dear No Thanks,

A quick perusal of online information about laser tag suggests it is not recommended for children under the age of seven.  Safety concerns, I’m sure.  Having played the game – just once – I cannot recommend it for any age.  Sorry, that’s the pacifist in me.  More on my experience later.  But back to the five year old.  I can think of several reasons it is not age appropriate for physical safety, but also psychological safety: 

1) The game is played in the dark.  Young children have a natural fear of the dark.  Once the lights go off, he may panic. (Run into a wall, trip, cry in front of his friends, etc.)  

2) The game is played on teams for points.  Young children do not do well with team sports, and do not lose (nor win) gracefully.  (He may tease or be teased about losing.) 

3) The “one size fits all” equipment- vests and guns – will be heavy and cumbersome for the younger players.  (Physical awkwardness will add to feelings of inefficacy.)  And 4) Laser tag is a war simulation game.  Study after study shows that young children cannot differentiate reality from fantasy.  They are not ready for war – not real war, not toy war. 

So here was my experience.  I had taken my then teen-age son and his friend along to a conference I was speaking at in Ocean City.   He must’ve spent most of his time (and money) on laser tag while I was busy.  He begged me to join him in one last game, his treat, before we headed home, so I reluctantly agreed.  An invitation to join your teenager in play is a rare event, I rationalized.  The rest of our team, as well as the make-up of our opponents, ranged in age from about 8 to 18.  I was given equipment and instructions and the game began.  “When you’re not shooting, keep your gun across your chest,” my son advised.  Figuring out who was who and where they were was a challenge even after my eyes adjusted to the darkness.  I felt a rush of adrenaline – keening my senses, heightening my defense instincts.   Still not wanting to “shoot” anyone, I did my best to keep myself covered from enemy fire.   Noticing the lighted scoreboard, I realized the other team was racking up most of their points by hitting me.  I felt a surge of team loyalty (powered by surging adrenaline) and – this is hard to admit – decided to hunt down the opposing team’s eight-year-olds.
In that moment, and still more than a decade later, I was angry with myself for allowing “war” to make a monster of me.  

So what do you tell your son?

Tell him you’re confused about his friend’s parents’ choice of a birthday venue – doesn’t sound like something your son would enjoy – and you’ll be doing something fun as a family that day. Then do it.  If they are good friends, your son can arrange to bring over a present in honor of turning six.  If not, maybe you’ll be lucky and you’ll see less and less of this neighbor family as your son finds plenty of other more appropriate ways to spend his precious childhood.
Trust your safety instincts on this one.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com” mailto:editor@chesapeakefamily.com”>editor@chesapeakefamily.com”>editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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