On June 10, Kate Middleton and two of her adorable royal brood, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, spent a picture-perfect day at the park where they watched Prince William participate in the Maserati Royal Charity Polo Trophy.
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But despite being widely admired for her $70 Zara dress and her hands-on interaction with her children, which drew inevitable comparisons to Princess Diana’s loving parenting style, the Duchess of Cambridge was also on the receiving end of heaps of criticism for allowing Prince George to play with a toy gun.
Onlookers were shocked that the young prince was allowed to play with the fake weapon, citing rising rates of gun and knife violence in the U.K., along with the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.
Some also came to the defence of the royal mom, pointing out that George is merely a child playing with a water pistol. While others brought up the fact that the royals have a long history of serving in the military and the monarchy upholds traditions like royal gun salutes — both of which would expose a child to guns within a controlled and safe context.
Then there’s the reality that Prince George comes from a hunting family.
In 2016, Prince William said in an interview with ITV News: “There is a place for commercial hunting in Africa as there is around the world. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the arguments for regulated, properly-controlled commercial hunting is that the money that goes from shooting a very old infirm animal goes back into the protection of the other species.”
All of this points to the distinct possibility that regardless of his toy gun, there’s a good chance that Prince George is already aware of firearms and their purpose in the right context.
But this still calls Middleton’s decision to allow her son to play with a toy gun into question, some experts believe.
“I completely understand the perspective of the critics in terms of not wanting to promote or glamourize gun violence,” says Dr. Jillian Roberts, founder of Family Sparks and associate professor at the University of Victoria. “The state of gun violence in the United States is heartbreaking and I flinch every time I open my news feed, worrying that there might have been another school shooting or mass shooting of some sort.”
While it’s normal for many parents to shy away from allowing their children, especially young boys, to play with guns for fear of normalizing violence, studies have shown that there’s no link between boys who play with guns and aggression.
In an interview with WebMD, Michael Thompson, a child psychologist and author of It’s a Boy! Your Son’s Development From Birth to Age 18, said that there is “no scientific evidence suggesting that playing war games in childhood leads to real-life aggression.”
Thompson went on to say that gender play preferences emerge naturally from children by the age of two or three, and in general, that means more aggressive play among boys.
“As a little boy, you’re not very powerful. With a gun, you feel powerful and heroic,” he said, emphasizing that it comes down to being the winner or the good guy, and not the perpetrator of violence.
While Roberts doesn’t condone violent video games, she promotes a balanced approach to controversial toys for children, emphasizing the importance of allowing kids to be kids while also monitoring how they view or play with toys of this nature.
“Refrain from buying toy guns for your child, but don’t freak out if your child plays at the park with another child who brought water pistols,” she said. “If a toy gun is given to your child, accept it gracefully. Let your child have fun running around in the backyard spraying water, but once the initial fun is over, hide or somehow get rid of the gun.”
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