I’ve never seen a Ninja movie, but I’ve witnessed many a boy portray one on the playground. Orchestrating what can very often look like a dance of two compliant combatants, boys are rarely praised for envisioning an almost operatic production that plays out as a grand struggle between good and evil. On the contrary, this spontaneous choreography that instinctually emanates from the heroic inner dialogue of boys typically draws ire from adults because the mere appearance of violence. And forget it if one of them pulls out a pretend firearm.
In the wake of too many school shootings and zero tolerance for violence policies that have emerged, there have been numerous cases of children being suspended for simply wielding a finger. This is nothing short of an all-out affront to being a boy.
Long working with kids, I witness boys on a daily basis engaging in pretend struggles where rescuing the good guys from the bad is always the goal. At the same time, this dance doesn’t lead certain boys down a path of violent evil since someone must stand in as the bad guy for the drama to play out.
None of them wanting to play that role, tears and arguments ultimately give way to compromise. As such, the Darth Vaders face off against the Luke Skywalkers in this daily take of mythological proportions.
The skill of compromise aside, the pretend violent passion plays provide boys their vehicle to interact in a language that is all their own. In turn, boys learn a socialization and restraint that leaves them in a better position to engage once the school work begins again after recess.
For my part, I’ve been ahead of the curve in terms of gun play – even as someone who abhors guns and the NRA. My simple philosophy: If you don’t let them have pretend guns, they’ll want real ones later.
The inner heroic dialogue welcome news to me, I have embraced it enthusiastically in recent years. But I still have to regulate myself as I see them play fighting in fear that the swinging pretend swords will actually make with a face.
So even for someone attuned to this, I can’t help intervene when the play gets too rough. The question then becomes when boys are continually harangued to reign in this normal tendency, how badly does it hamper their development.
Well, if we look at the declining state of academic performance in boys, it sounds like a lot. That means I’m going to have to do more for my part. So when the next rainy day relegates us to a movie, I’m pushing for ninjas and then letting the boys ready their play swords and shields to save the day.