On Sunday, members of the British royal family were enjoying the outdoors at the Maserati Royal Charity Polo Trophy in England.
Kate Middleton, Prince George and Princess Charlotte camped out on the grass to watch Prince William play in the charity game.
As kids do, the prince and princess were more interested in playing than watching dad compete.
As photographers do, media captured images of the family. They snapped photos of Charlotte as she ran down a hill and dug through mom’s purse. They show George playing with a slinky, a polo mallet and a toy gun.
It’s that last image that’s causing a divide on social media and reigniting a longstanding debate.
On one hand, people are upset that the 4-year-old royal was allowed to play with a toy gun — especially one as realistic looking as it was — given the current climate around gun violence.
“Why play with things you should never have to use,” asked one Twitter user.
On the other hand, people are upset by the outrage. They say that — on its own — the act of playing with a toy gun won’t make a child a violent adult.
One study that looked at how preschoolers play found “aggression in pretend play was not an indicator of actual aggressive behavior.“
Psychologist Michael Thompson told CNN the issue for parents to watch for is whether their child knows when aggression is pretend and when it’s real.
“I understand why parents get upset by these games, but it is play, and play does not lead to lethal aggression. Play … is consensual. Aggression is hurtful and produces injury in the person. Play doesn’t produce any of that,” said the co-author of “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.”
Another study found that kids who were able to play aggressively had developed senses of social and emotional abilities. It said that prohibiting such play could actually stifle development.
It’s understandable that parents would want to stop kids from playing with pretend weapons. The world is a scary place and they want playfulness at home to just be fun. But experts say the best route is to talk to kids about real violence and raise them to be kind to others is more important than the toys they play with.