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He Wants a BB Gun. Mom Says, “No Way.” Expert Explains Who Wins

What happens when a teen feels one way about a particular issue or problem and the parent has a very different take? At Your Teen, we understand that sometimes you need to look at a problem from multiple perspectives. It can also be helpful to hear from a neutral third party. That’s when we bring in a parenting expert to provide the practical advice you need to bridge the divide and help restore harmony.

Portrait of a mom outside looking toward camera

When my son asked if he could have a BB gun, my first thought was of A Christmas Story.

In the movie, nine-year-old Ralphie has only one thing on his Christmas list: a Red Ryder BB gun. Whenever he mentions it to an adult, the response is always the same: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” I said the same thing to my son.

“Mom, that’s just in the movies,” he replied. Except it isn’t. When my brother was a freshman in high school, he was doing some target practice in the backyard. One of the BBs ricocheted off the metal fence and lodged in his eye. He spent a week in the hospital and was lucky he didn’t lose his eyesight.

Perhaps that was a rare situation, but it’s my job to make decisions that will keep my son safe. In addition, I have strong feelings about gun culture. We live 15 miles away from the site of the Sandy Hook shooting, so, needless to say, gun ownership is a hot topic in our community. I even questioned the idea of letting my son play with Nerf guns when he was younger. My husband’s family is from Maine, and, being hunters, they have a completely different take on guns.

I want my son to have fun and be able to share experiences with his cousins, but I also think that owning a BB gun is an unnecessary risk.

Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Her work has been seen in The Boston Globe, Health, The Week, and Today’s Parent, and she’s also the author of Lost Restaurants of Fairfield.  

Portrait of a teen boy outsideSince I was 10 years old, I’ve wanted a BB gun more than anything.

But my mom always says, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” I’m almost offended that she doesn’t trust me. I think that people shooting their eye with a BB gun is highly unlikely.

With the proper training and guidelines, I believe anyone can avoid the dangers of a BB gun. My uncles and grandfathers have told me the proper safety rules with a gun since I was 8, and safety is stuck in my brain. I’ve promised that I will be extra careful and learn how to use it correctly.

Does the BB gun make me want to commit a school shooting? Absolutely not. I’ve never thought to hurt or kill anyone in my life, and shooting a plastic bottle in my yard won’t make me violent. In fact, to calm my mother’s concerns surrounding my BB gun, I would only use it in the woods in Maine and Vermont.

I feel it’s important for teens to be able to experiment with new things such as BB guns to find new interests and hobbies. I like to be outside, and this is another hobby I can do.

All in all, I feel a BB gun can help me explore new hobbies and learn how to be safe.

Henri LaVoie is in eighth grade. He enjoys biking with his friends, playing video games, and singing in choir. He has two cats and a tortoise.

Professional portrait of a woman on a blue backgroundAs an adolescent psychologist, I usually like to find a middle ground for parent-child negotiations and reward a responsible teen who articulates his desire for new explorations of their independence and competency-building.

However, Mom has a right to make this judgment call.

Even with gun training and experience, the risk for serious harm and accidents from a BB gun is still too high for this mom’s comfort zone. Once a parent prioritizes her feelings and her assessment of risk over a child’s, it becomes the parent’s obligation to negotiate some other choice that may be inferior but workable for them both. Patti should acknowledge Henri’s sense of disappointment and seek alternatives for this itch he has for excitement. Paintball tournaments? A geocache expedition? She could sweeten the deal by sponsoring her son and a friend (or his cousins) on an adventure of some kind.

Patti can appreciate how much her son wants to expand his skills and experience fun in nature. She can also express that she trusts that with the number of options available, ranging from sports to hiking to service opportunities, she and Henri can find an alternative that suits them both.

Laura Kastner, Ph.D., is a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington and author of Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Raising Tweens + Teens and Wise-Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials for Raising Tweens + Teens.

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