How I Handled My Son’s Drawings of Violent Images

This is NOT my child's drawing, but one I got from early childhood magazine on an article on  children's experience with violence.

This is NOT my child’s drawing, but one I got from early childhood magazine on an article on children’s experience with violence.

On Friday, I picked up my 7-year-old son from his after school program, expecting to see him playing with Legos or tumbling around on the grass with a football in hand. Instead I found him chatting with friends–already something different than the usual status quo. I greeted him. We hugged. Went through the usual dialogue…

“What did you do in school today?”

“Good. I got a star for [fill in the blank]”

“Great! What did you learn?” ….

Then, as he does at times when we are in the car, he pulls out stuff he wants me to see. Often times its a project he worked on in class that he did well on. Sometimes its a flier for a school event he really wants to join.

This day he pulled out some drawings he was really proud of that he made after school. He and his friends were sitting around and drawing together and sharing their stories.

There on paper were images of an elaborate forest scene—tons of green trees. And among the trees were images of people with swords and bows and arrows…all fighting. And there is red crayon scribbles here and there for added effect.

Where are my son’s precious drawings of families holding hands, of surfers riding waves, of snowboarders sliding down mountains? Of dirt bike riders heading up hills?

He was so excited to show me. Big smiles. So proud.

I didn’t want to crush his spirit with immediate criticism. I complimented his drawing and the detail.

Then I expressed that the blood really bothered me and could make other people feel uncomfortable so that in the future I didn’t want him to use red crayon.

He was hurt. Immediately got defensive and asked if his drawing was bad.

I didn’t want to shame him.
I didn’t want to make him feel he did anything wrong.

I mean did he?

I think I’ve seen a lot of movies like “The Sixth Sense” that show these mentally disturbed kids drawing violent images. I think I’ve been educated by the feminist and liberal professors that say drawings of violent images are linked to violent behavior and internal angst….and that male aggression is bad. Very very bad.

I immediately clarified that I thought he was a great artist. But that the blood is just scary. I asked him where he got the idea for the picture and he talked about some movies we’ve let him see. Owen and I don’t have a problem with some violence in movies for our kids. We are stricter about sex and definitely dark, satanic themes, drugs, or gore. But we allow him to watch shoot-em-up movies. And I still feel that it is okay, provided we talk to him about each film and how it compares to the real world and right vs wrong.

And for the record, I don’t think that my son is a future psycho. It was a good guy/bad guy scenario. No one is killing innocent cats, etc…

I think he is a normal boy.

But I’m afraid of what other people might think.What if a teacher, who has been taught to believe all violence and male aggression is wrong, found the drawing and sent him the school psychologist? What if I were called in to talk about the government’s opinion of my parenting tactics?

And I do admit, I don’t want him drawing like this all the time because then that would concern me. An occasional violent drawing is fine with me. Just not with all the blood. And not all the time.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything right away. Maybe I should have waited to see if he drew such a violent image again. But my female emotions took over and I immediately wanted to nip any potential issues in the bud right away.

I told Owen, my husband. He wasn’t too concerned. Told Kanan not to include the blood because it bothered his mommy and to make sure and continue drawing other things that are not so violent. Keep a good variety.

Kanan, like me, wanted specifics. Can I do one drawing a day? One drawing a week? One a month?

We didn’t know the answer. Just every once in a while. And you will have to figure out how often that is and we will too. There’s no rule. Just don’t do it often. Then on Monday, Owen told the teachers in his after school program to make sure and not allow him to draw any violent images while there (we figured we could monitor the drawings better if in our own home),

I told his dad about his drawing.

“Completely normal” was his response and a look in his eyes that suggested I was being a worrisome mother.

I want to be rational and logical with this. I don’t want to be overly emotional.

I’m in this dilemma, this paradoxical philosophical world view that on one side recognizes that our nation has bought into too many feminist ideals that demonize male aggression and demonize even self-protection with our gun law battles and our dependency on the government as the ones to protect ourselves. I also have this other world view—the Christian one that does value peace and love and “all things good and pure.” But Christianity certainly isn’t a pacifist faith. While love and peace are certainly goals, even Jesus says that there will be times in the future where his disciples will need to “bring a sword.” Self-protection is not a sin when approached with violence.

So we shall see how it goes. If I see any more consistent violent drawings from my sweet boy.

What are your thoughts? How have my mommy readers handled situations like this with their boys? Where do you give room for being boys, but draw lines for being what you consider :”normal, natural, and healthy?”

I found a couple of books on the topic I thought might be helpful. Two differing views:

and

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12 thoughts on “How I Handled My Son’s Drawings of Violent Images

  1. Sounds kind of like my own parents’ concern of my love of toy guns at about the same age. They were not allowed so I would build my own out of pieces of wood and electrical tape. It was my dream to be a police officer when I grew up. But my parents being Jehovah’s Witnesses disapproved and if ever my father was to find one of these toy guns he would break them and beat me too. I never grew to live my dream of being a police officer in the hopes of bringing more justice to this world. But I still love guns and part of me wishes my parents had supported my dream. I don’t shoot at animals or people. I’m not a violent person. That is just one of the things that clicked with me and no matter how hard my parents tried were never able to take away from me. As far as drawing images of knights and castles; those were also a fascination of mine and even the history books in elementary school depicted such images. I’m sure many video games today exhibit such as well. What we see and what we draw cannot be taken out of context for who we are. If you see changes in attitude or behavior then I would be concerned. But to a child images as such are usually no deeper than in a fantasy realm with no close connection to reality. This is the innocence of a child.

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  2. Thanks for sharing volitionabs. I think as parents if we make too big of a deal about things and assume the worst in our kids, we can make things worse. I’m sorry it affected your career choice. I think you learned some valuable lessons about what not to do and where to draw the line when it comes to worry. If you have kids, I’m sure you will do a much better job in that area. 🙂

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  3. I’ve thought about things like this quite a bit, in regards to drawing and pretend play. We allow our children to watch violent shows. Many of them play violent video games. This is not the day and age where Tom is whacking Jerry on the head. These are people shooting people for “fun”. If they see this as entertainment why shouldn’t we expect them to entertain themselves with the same ideas. Even the Bible, which we are faithful to teach our children is FULL of violence. There are beheadings, war and all kinds of things. If they watch the news (mine don’t) i’m sure they know all about the Fergeson killing.

    The “this might make people uncomfortable” part worries me because of teaching children to give the gospel. Why would they if it made people uncomfortable?

    In the end, it’s a great discussion to have.

    Just FYI: Our family hunts. My children know they only shoot animals they are going to eat.

    When playing “good guy, bad guy” I always encourage them to give the gospel before they shoot!! 😉

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    • great point, Nickole about “making people uncomfortable”….I’ll make sure and clarify that discomfort alone is not enough to drive our decisions with other people. Think—is it good for them? If yes, then still do it. Is it not good for them? Then no, don’t do it. Great point and I really appreciate you sharing that!

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  4. Great topic and great comments. My son Trevor is five. It seems boys are drawn to shooting, guns and such. I just got Trevor a swat uniform to play as a cop. He wants to be a police officer when he grows and I support that, it would be really neat if he actually becomes one. He likes to shoot his guns and I let him, he can’t point it at people or our animals but if I play with him and we’re playing cop and bad guy, then we do. He’s not really into drawing right now but his big thing is the iPad games. I’ve really had to limit his time in the iPad but Trevor is drawn to some of the violent stuff. There’s one game in there that’s spider man but it’s rated 12 for mild real like violence. Right now I only let him play 9 year old and under. It sure is tough being a parent, and a single parent as well. I don’t allow anything darks satanic like and never will, I pray. I don’t like that stuff. I’m just trying to put as much good in him as I can while he’s still small. I’m reading the bible to him (his child bible), bible stories, we pray every day together morning, before meals and at night. He remembers all in his to pray too. I love it! He knows who Jesus is, he knows about heaven. One day he will make his own choices and pray those choices will be in align with God’s will.
    I don’t think I would too worried about the drawing. If he’s watching things that have violence and knows the bible, then it’s not surprising Kanan would draw things like that. It seems he draws a lot of different types of pictures from what I gather. I’ve learned too, when we as parents make a big deal out if something it becomes taboo. They won’t to do it more because it’s forbidden. Not to say let our kids do what they want but I’ve kind of learned already, for instance if Trevor repeats a bad word (I’m not perfect, and I’m not talking about the really bad words, I don’t use language like that), I don’t freak out and punish him for saying a cuss word. I don’t make it a real big deal. I say to Trevor ” honey that’s not a nice word to say, let say “oh dang dandelions” for instance. I make it funny and now the new word(s) I taught him is funny and more fun to say. Yes it’s a different category then violent drawings, but I probably wouldn’t make a big deal. Compliment on the detail, maybe say ” wow, that sure is a lot of blood you drew, what’s going in that picture”? And let him explain his thinking. And then I might tell him, “ok sweetheart let’s be sure to draw other cool things too like ….” And of course if it became a continuous thing, behaviors change, things of that nature, then I’d get concerned and perhaps would need to dig deeper into the issue.
    Well I just discovered your blog Theresea. Thanks for sharing, and I’m going to be following it now
    Trisha

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  5. just me, but I think the specifics of the drawing are important. Drawing is a form an expression of a child’s imagination, right? So if he was drawing something he saw in a movie, the people on the drawing are fictional just like the movie and the event in the drawing is something he has seen and is drawing out, even if he replaces the “hero” character with himself. I feel like that is absolutely normal behavior.
    If the drawing was of violent behavior between him and other kids at school or people in your family, that could definitely be cause for concern.

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  6. agreed. I admit I reacted emotionally and that it is not a big concern. It was just a lot of blood and violence. And it was my first time seeing something like that from my son.

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  7. My son at 12 started drawing very clever comic strip stories playing out scenes of made-up espionage and intrigue at his middle school (he reads Tom Clancy), typically culminating in the bloody death of the lesser characters. Instead of discouraging him, we praised his creativity and ability to distill complex subjects down to stick figures. We suggested he make a new drawing every couple days and build out a long-term story with more well-defined characters. Some drawings I can show others, some I cannot.

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  8. I don’t have kids, but I’m a philosopher of art, do research on drawing and just today published a paper in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany on depictions of violence. Some of the greatest and most celebrated artworks are depictions of scenes of violences: Goya’s and Manet’s “Shooting of the Rebels”, Géricault’s “Raft of Medusa”, Picasso’s “Guernica” and this week end I went to an art fair. There were many violent pictures too. Violence is part of life, it is part of popular culture (as your reference to the movies show) and blood is a trace of it. I believe there is nothing at all to worry about and that blood is totally okay. It’s probably what made these drawings – and I would love to see them – interesting. And I would say it restricts your son’s freedom to make his drawings as lively as he wishes if he can’t depict blood in them. Why would it be okay to make realistic shoot-em-up movies if it’s not okay to depict such scenes in a childlike way? Also, it’s probably his way to get those violent scenes out of his system. If you want to avoid them, you can use vidangel, which allows you to filter violence, swearwords, nudity. But it seems to me to be paradoxical to let him watch violent depictions of violence, but not produce them. Producing them is at least a creative act. I also mention some nice research that appeared in this book by Neil Cohn: https://www.diegesis.uni-wuppertal.de/index.php/diegesis/article/view/269/379

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. We actually have changed our rules a bit to allow for some more realistic scenes with blood since writing this post. I will update this article to share what we have changed. And ps–we LOVE vidangel. Also something we’ve stRted using since writing this post.

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