Since we moved here eight years ago, my son, and eventually my daughter, have participated in a State College tradition: building their arsenal at the Arts Fest Children & Youth Sidewalk Sale.
Our kids get $10-$15 each to spend at the sale, and give careful consideration to their weapons. Size, power, creativity and bragging rights are all weighed.
They've chosen marshmallow shooters, bedazzled daggers, swords, and, our favorites, bows and arrows. As we walk through the festival, our kids encounter friends and take part in impromptu battles on the fringes of the route. The weapons come home and, unlike other purchases, become part of the favorite-toy rotation.
Sadly, with the 2015 Arts Fest, this tradition has come to an abrupt end. Two weeks ago, Arts Fest issued a news release banning the sale of weapons, "including toys and facsimiles of historic objects," citing several issues:
1) Arts Fest, with its large and apparently persnickety crowds, is an "inappropriate place" to try out these toys. The news release explains that "even though parents ask their children to wait to play with their purchases" (umm, not me), children "...regularly shoot or bop an unsuspecting target." Arts Fest attendees may also get bumped by strollers, encounter a drunk college student, step in a puddle of lemonade, and get stuck behind a human chain of pre-schoolers out for a field trip. Arts Fest is a massive, crowded outdoor festival in the heat of the summer, not a symphony performance. If you can't tolerate these minor inconveniences, perhaps you can watch Arts Fest from StateCollege.com's live camera.
2) The news release claims that "weapons sold in the Children and Youth Sidewalk Sale are often a better example of manufacturing than they are of creative processes." The range of creativity expressed by the Arts Fest weapons mirrors the range of overall submissions. My art-wise daughter would not spend her money on something if she didn't admire the creative process herself.
3) Not mentioned in the news release, but in the ensuing media attention, is Executive Director Rick Bryant's statement that "we live in especially violent times." Living in a community based largely around a major research university, we should take note of the fact that, in fact, we live in one of the safest times in human history. (Click here and here for articles that make that point.)
"Banning the sale of weapons at the Children and Youth Sidewalk Sale might not be a giant step in making our society less violent," Bryant's statement continues, "but it's a step that we can take." Perhaps we should also ban water guns at the community pools or fencing from Penn State Athletics?
Like any parent, I have to force myself not to fixate on the terrible images evoked by each gun tragedy. I worry whether my kids will encounter a gun while on a play date or whether the next tragedy will strike close to home.
Yet never for a moment have I worried that their daggers or marshmallow shooters would somehow trigger or promote violence in their own psyches. When my son first started turning his half-eaten toast into a gun, and then began requesting toy guys, I turned to researchers for guidance. I've yet to read a study linking toy guns to violence or aggression.
In the AP article on the ban, Bryant used the phrase "boys will be boys." Yet it's my 6-year-old daughter who seems most affected by this decision. Since learning of the news, she decided to make her own line of "Slingshots for Peace," made from her polka dot duct tape, pencils and other found objects. If she can find a way to sell them, maybe on our front lawn, she'll keep half the proceeds and donate the other half to an organization that promotes peace.
When I asked my daughter why she enjoys playing with swords, she replied, "It's cool that you can use a sword when you're only 6-years-old." Just like it's cool to use a pretend stethoscope or a plastic Swiss army knife. Bryant uses the phrase "facsimiles of historic objects" in the language explaining the ban, inadvertently highlighting the fact that many of these toys are wooden or plastic versions of those our kids have read about in countless books — many of them checked out from our school library. Kids process life through their imaginations.
So if you see a 6-year-old girl selling a slingshot this summer, please excuse her if you accidentally get "bopped" by one of her creations. She's simply being a kid.
I'd like to think that "Children and Youth Day" is a good time to do just that.
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