When I was growing up cartoons only came on TV on Saturday morning. There were no video games, and fun was mostly found playing football, cowboys & Indians, or army. Everyone in my family was a hunter and guns were a part of our life and my childhood. I killed a lot of small game and a few deer before I ever kissed a girl. Times have changed.
In most families both parents work. Many kids spend many hours a week at daycare. Evenings are cluttered with homework, television, sports, and extra curricular activity practice. Weekends are filled with soccer, football, baseball and similar endeavors. As parents make an effort to find a moment of sanity, or catch up on chores, kids often end up watching episode after episode of Sponge Bob or other silliness.
I have four children, two are now adults, the others teenagers. They’ve been exposed to guns their entire life. The youngest three enjoy shooting or being around guns; the oldest could care less. I’m responsible for both the gun interest in the youngest and the lack of the same in the oldest. Let me explain.
When my oldest was five I started taking him to the range with me. He was excited about the adventures – I thought because he liked guns. In reality, his enthusiasm came from the opportunity of doing something with dad. I assumed his gun interests were similar to mine. He learned to shoot rather well, but I noticed he quit having fun. I realized I’d made a serious mistake.
When my next oldest son was four, I got him a BB gun and we cut photos of animals from hunting magazines and taped them to cardboard boxes. We went on hunts in the yard, and it wasn’t long until he’d killed all sorts of paper animals. At five, he progressed to a .22 rifle that was light enough for him to shoot off-hand.
After a few shots on paper, so he could see he was hitting what he aimed at, we graduated to fun targets. With mom at work we’d raid the fridge and steal vegetables. We took crackers out of the cabinet, bought some balloons and lollipops. I even ordered some swinging steel plates. Why, when he shot these targets there was a reaction; sometimes an explosive one. He found this exciting but also demonstrated to him the destructive power of a firearm.
When he turned six a friend who builds custom rifles loaned me one he’d put tougher for a small kid. It was too heavy for him to shoot off-hand but the stock fit, the trigger was crisp, and it was chambered for a cartridge that did not knock his boogers out. I let him shoot a few shots at a deer target and three weeks later he killed a spike buck. It was a heart shot at 60 yards he still brags about.
Since then his interest in guns has become more professional. He’s more eager to learn how they work and anytime he has a chance to shoot a gun like he uses when he plays his Modern Warfare game, he’s excited. Still, I make sure that whenever we shoot its fun. I try to end each shooting session with a game or challenge.
This has had a cascading effect on the other, younger kids. My son runs in the house to tell mom about the cool things we did or how well he shot. Our two girls want to be part of that excitement. They associate shooting with fun. It’s my job to make sure that does not change.
This has even had an effect on my wife. She was not a shooter when we met but she was not afraid of, nor did she have any aversion to guns. Over the last few years our son’s shooting enthusiasm spread to her. She’s been to Gunsite Academy multiple times, she’s hunted in Africa, and taken several deer here at home while hunting on her own.
Here is a lesson for husbands and fathers: Mom’s matter – where the mom leads, the kids will follow.
My mother was a hunter and shooter, and so are my sister and I.
Safety is of course a concern. You need to ingrain firearm safety into your kids. When I was in Junior high school, we were all given the hunter’s safety course. Get this; we even loaded shotgun shells in the gym and shot clays on the baseball field. That won’t be happening anymore but the Hunter’s Safety Course is a great safety education experience for a youngster.
With my son I made sure he understood gun safety, and never refuse to let him see or handle a gun as long as he exercises proper protocol. I also encourage him to call me out anytime he sees anything unsafe. When he does, I listen. If he’s wrong, I explain why and if he’s right, I admit my mistake.
Getting kids interested in shooting is really very simple but you have to understand their interest in shooting is driven by different things than yours. A half-inch group will mean little to a seven year old but an exploding tomato will mean the world. Here’s a simple test. If you’re out shooting with your kids and they’re not smiling, you’re doing it wrong.
A Psychologist on Kids & Guns – Samantha Mann
Parents employ methods of discipline loosely based on scientific principles of a behavior modification theory called operant conditioning. Any reward, or more specifically a positive reinforcer is defined as any event following a behavior that increases the frequency of that behavior. Therefore, if you are trying to increase the amount of time that your child is shooting, what happens immediately after the trigger is pulled must influence them to do it or want to do it again. The positive reinforcer they experience can come from you, such as a pat on the back, or from the target, such as a dynamic reaction.
Any parent who has given the horsey ride and heard the squeals and the “do it again!” understands this.
Guns unfortunately create a loud noise and sometimes kick. Both can lead to a certain amount of anxiety. This relates to a behavior modification theory called classical conditioning. Many children – and even adults – are afraid of guns for that very reason. Introduction in gradual increments is the best approach, and be smart; start with a .22 LR. Remington’s CB loads are a low noise option. When the child asks if the gun will kick or be loud, be truthful; help them prepare for what’s coming. It only takes a single bad experience to instill fear in child. If the fear is strong enough, one instance can create a lifelong phobia.
If done intelligently, shooting and hunting are excellent activities to share with children. They will learn much more than just how to shoot or how to hunt. They will develop good self-esteem, coping skills, relationships, self-reliance, and independence, while experiencing healthy recreation and an overall philosophy of life and death. This will reduce their risk for delinquent behavior, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and even giving in to peer pressure.