Objective: Toy gun play has been associated with aggressive behavior, and it has been suggested that child health professionals counsel families on limiting exposure. Effective violence prevention counseling requires an understanding of norms regarding parental attitudes, practices, and influencing factors. Both theories of reasoned action and planned behavior emphasize that subjective norms and attitudes affect people's perceptions and intended behavior. Few normative data exist on this issue from a cross-section of families. By establishing behavioral norms and understanding the spectrum of parental attitudes, community-sensitive and community-specific interventions for violence prevention can be developed. The objective of this study was to assess community norms on the topic of toy gun play from the perspective of parents.
Methods: An anonymous self-report assisted survey was administered to a convenience sample of parents/guardians who visited child health providers at 3 sites: an urban children's hospital clinic, an urban managed care clinic, and a suburban private practice. The parent questionnaire included questions on child rearing attitudes, practice, and sociodemographic information.
Results: A total of 1004 eligible participants were recruited for the study; 922 surveys were completed (participation rate 92%). The 830 (90%) respondents who were parents and had complete child data were the focus of additional analysis. Regarding toy guns, 67% of parents believed that it was never "OK for a child to play with toy guns," and 66% stated that they never let their children play with toy guns. Parents who thought that it was okay for children to play with toy guns and allowed them to play with toy guns were more likely to be male parents, have male children, and be white.
Conclusions: There is variability in norms regarding toy gun play among parents, with most discouraging toy gun play. Norms varied based on gender of the child, gender of the parent, and race. Understanding norms is a first step in designing effective community-sensitive interventions.