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`Bah, humbug!' to violent toys

HE-MAN and G. I. Joe television commercials are again bombarding our homes for the holidays. 'Tis the season of peace on earth, good will toward men, you know.

Your Tiny Tim, his soul mesmerized, presses his nose to the TV's storefront window.

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Will you succumb and fulfill his wide-eyed dreams of Castle Grey- skull? Or will you forbid such aggressive play, lest it corrupt his still-tender heart?

On the one hand, you fret, the forbidden fruit is always sweetest. On the other, toys of violence are as repulsive as the aggressive behavior they foster.

Either way, what parents don't provide, a child's imagination will. A stick slices the air as cleanly as a sword. An extended thumb and forefinger threatens as menacingly as a gun.

The dilemma has no easy solution. But beware: You can overreact.

Many a statesman and churchman grew up playing with toy six-shooters strapped to their sides and bowie knives stuck in their belts. Violent toys don't necessarily create violent, aggressive adults. Sometimes they are safety valves for bottled emotions.

More important, though, Masters of the Universe, G. I. Joes, and such miniatures of the world offer children a sense of mastery -- control -- in their sometimes out-of-control, big-people world.

All children crave that control, that form of security -- establishing times and ways in which the child can make the choices, can determine the outcome.

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The outcome parents need to worry about is the final product: the value system their children carry into adulthood.

To groom your child with your values, express them -- consistently, honestly, confidently.

If the sight of guns and bloody knuckles turns your stomach, say so. Turn off the television when ``The Dukes of Hazzard'' comes on. Turn thumbs down to Clint Eastwood movies.

And refuse to buy the tools of violence.

Yet, don't fret too much when your child's face lights up like a Christmas tree as he unwraps his Masters of the Universe, sent with love from Uncle Ned.

You will master the dilemma in the long run by saying ``bah, humbug'' to violent toys loud enough and long enough for your child to hear.

And have confidence:

Your children will say ``bah, humbug,'' too -- by the time Christmas bells ring for your grandchildren.

Andrew Stremmel and Joanne Evers are head teachers in Purdue University's Child Development Laboratory/Classrooms in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences, Lafayette, Ind.

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