It’s About Discretion – the Cops and Robbers Debate

Hands up who played Cops and Robbers as a kid? What about Cowboys and Indians? Are there any blokes out there who can honestly say they have not once played with a plastic toy gun or even a water pistol?

Who remembers this?

I remember as a kid I had several toy guns. It was a very cool toy for a young lad and coupled with handcuffs I used to pretend I was a police officer busting the baddie (usually my brother). It never occurred to me at that young age that what I was doing could be potentially harmful to my psyche. I didn’t think then and there that by pulling that little plastic trigger I could be setting my self up for a life of crime. I suppose nobody thinks that but the truth is it’s just not true – at least not with toys. Debate continues to rage over the effects of violent video games on impressionable teens, but that is not what Let Kids Be Kids is about. The question is of young kids and healthy physical activity.

The inspiration for this post is a 2002 report by Ellen Sorokin which details several examples of nanny-state reactions. Startling is the case of the eight-year-old boy who was suspended from school for pointing his fingers at a teacher and saying “bang bang”. More incredibly, two second grade students from New York were suspended and criminally charged with making terrorist threats after pointing paper guns and saying “I’m going to kill you”.

The actions of the kids in the latter case here is obviously more concerning than the former but regardless, criminal charges?? Granted they were dropped, possibly laughed out of court, but they should never have been laid in the first place. These are second grade children we’re talking about. I refer to the questions at the start of this post: who has never held a toy gun of any kind and pretended to shoot? In the 20th Century, cops and robbers was one of the all time favourites of children around the world. Now, you could conceivably be locked up in juvenile detention for pointing your fingers at another. Surely this has gone way too far.

Let’s also keep in mind Sorokin’s article was published in 2002! The United States was still reeling from the worst terrorist attack on its people and paranoia was rife. But hang on, these are second graders we are talking about! If kids can no longer play cops and robbers, even with their fingers as guns, where is society headed? Another alarming question arises. Will kids turn to video games? Surely with absolutely no physical activity involved and no use of tangible ‘weapons’, kids will not become second generation Martin Bryants and Anders Behring Breiviks by sitting in front of a screen? Well I don’t need to tell you, that opens a whole new can of worms.

It is alarming when children are required to undergo psychological testing for threatening to shoot spit-balls at another child like a nine-year-old New Jersey boy did in 2002. It’s not nice, it’s mean, but it’s what kids do. A threat of spit-ball shooting is not the second coming of Columbine, as tragic as that incident was. The point is, it is about discretion. As a responsible, reasonable, rational society we have to be able to distinguish between serious psychological issues in children and simple game play. If we cannot do that, we might as well lock them in their bedrooms alone forever where they will be safe and, more importantly apparently, others will be safe from them.



Sorokin, E 2002, ‘Criminalizing playtime’, Insight on the News, April, Vol. 18, No. 15, p. 28


2 thoughts on “It’s About Discretion – the Cops and Robbers Debate

  1. This is SO important for young kids to go through. Games like this is how we all make sense of the grownup world in our five-year old minds and it’s how we start understanding things like ethics, right and wrong and the way you treat people. Playtime is an incredibly important LIFE EXPERIENCE! I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a circumstance where parent intervention needs to be involved, but that’s all part of the learning process for kids.

  2. When schools and authorities start banning games, that’s when we have to worry! In many schools around Sydney kids aren’t allowed to run on the concrete incase they hurt themselves (Or be sued…). Kids need to be allowed the freedom to learn from their own mistake and parents and a schools need to be fostering their creativity. Not only that! But if someone does have an issue with what children are doing, TEACH THEM! Don’t take them to court…
    Parents are the first line of defence – they are responsible and need to educate their kids.

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