I watched Star Wars with my oldest son yesterday afternoon after days (maybe months) of requests to do so. Of course, he wanted to play “lightsabers” afterward. I’ve moved past the debate about whether or not this kind of media and follow up play teaches kids to be violent. The jury is in on that topic, and the verdict is: wake up. Children’s physical, social, and emotional development is much more complex than that.
During our follow up light-saber battle (which was postponed until dinner was eaten, dishes were done, and rooms were tidied) I tried to follow my son’s lead as much as possible. I wanted to see where he would go with it. We used Nerf™ brand foam swords, which I love, because they let the boys experience the painful natural consequence of hitting too hard without anyone getting really hurt. Truthfully, there are very few more effective ways to teach gentleness.
If one of us maneuvered past the other’s blocks and made contact with a body part, the “injured” player had to stop using that body part. To get the use of that body part back, we designated the basement step as the goal. We had lots of laughs watching each other hop, creep, slide, and inch our way over to the step.
Tiring of that, my son made a new innovation. After making contact and “cutting off” an arm, leg, butt, etc., the swordsman had to flip the sword over, grab the blade, and “heal” the other player by touching him with the handle of the sword. After being healed, both players resumed full “health” and participation.
How profoundly this one simple rule of play demonstrated the difference between violence and rough-and-tumble play. Violence is vicious, self-serving, and hurtful. Sport and rough-and-tumble play recognize the importance of caring and keeping all players in the game. The wisdom of many traditions teaches that our wholeness is often, sometimes only, found by being wounded. Even more so by healing and being healed.