Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)
Tweens and Guns
Official definitions vary slightly, but for the purposes of this book, a tween is, a person who is between the ages of 10 and 12 years old. The term is often described in popular media as a preadolescent who is at the “in-between” stage in their development. Tweens are at a crossroads in their lives.
They still retain a great deal of the openness and innocence of their younger years, and have not quite yet experienced the hormonal surge that can lead to emotional outbursts, conflicts, becoming argumentative, and, perhaps most importantly, developing a significant interest in members of the opposite sex.
According to all of the experts in child psychology, education and scientific world, every child learns in a slightly different way. The short version is that every kid is different, even tweens. As described in Chapter 3, figuring out that individual learning style will be the key to your success.
It is not likely that you will have insurmountable obstacles when introducing a tween to firearms. However, as we saw, there are certain things about children’s learning behavior that may help you avoid frustration on both sides.
If the child is your own, you will know much about them. Complications may arise when you’re introducing one of their friends or, perhaps a youth who you don’t know, to something that requires a great deal of attention and needs to be handled with a great deal of responsibility - in this case a gun.
The good news is that most children have fully developed their learning style by the time they hit the tween stage, and if you have properly evaluated them, you will know how to teach them.
MYTH: 12 YEARS OLD IS THE PROPER AGE TO INTRODUCE CHILDREN TO GUNS
The truth is, the proper age to introduce a child to firearm SAFETY is from three to four years old. By that age, a child has a basic understanding of right and wrong, yes and no, and, most importantly, pain and danger.
You will recall from Chapter 3 that I recommend the Eddie Eagle program for all young children, but the safety message in that program translates to all ages.
The proper age to introduce a child to FIREARMS is… whatever age you deem appropriate, based upon your experience, knowledge, comfort, teaching ability and patience; your extended and careful observation of the child’s maturity and ability to understand the essential concepts of safety; and the child’s physical ability to safely handle the firearm.
The short answer: The proper age to introduce a child to firearms depends on the child.
Ask yourself (or, the parents of the child you are teaching) questions that will help you anticipate any challenges that may arise. Does the child have any learning issues? Are they labeled with a condition such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Do they tend to learn better hands-on, or do they work best through language and do well with reading things first and then putting it into practice? If this is the case, they are probably relatively good students in school, because the overwhelming method of teaching is, “read, answer questions and listen to the teacher.”
If you hand kinetic learners a booklet and tell them to read it and answer questions before you start something more enjoyable, you may run into trouble.
Conversely, if you try to bring up a child of the tween ages to use as an example in something that they have little to no knowledge about, their embarrassment can complicate their ability to learn. I have seen brilliant, dynamic children unable to speak and function when brought up in front of their peers.
Tweens are rapid learners, and the author’s experience has been that tween girls tend to be easier to teach than tween boys.
UNIQUE ASPECTS OF TWEENS
You might find this hard to believe, but if I had to pick a preferred age and gender to introduce to firearms, it would be the female tween. It is been my experience, and, the experience of hundreds of other youth mentors and instructors that I have spoken to, that females, in general, are easier to teach firearm safety and use. They tend to be overall less aggressive, less know-it-all and more open to instruction at just about every level. It is certainly something you should consider when teaching a youth/child about firearms and firearm safety.
Tweens are at the stage of their life when they assimilate knowledge rapidly. Their brain is in a highly active developmental state, and it is specifically at this time in their lives that they develop and exhibit habits, patterns and passions that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
I find it is much easier to introduce a youth of this age to firearms and have them develop a passion for firearms, rather than wait until later in their life when they have already established preferred hobbies and recreation. Your experience may be different, but it is certainly something to consider.
Also, youth at this age are deciding what they want to do in school, sports and life in general, and you may fill a void in their lives by helping them experience shooting.
The other side of this coin is that this is when many youth become extremely busy with other activities. Think of the people you know that have children of this age. They tend to be running around between school, play, soccer, karate, baseball, hockey, glee club, tutoring, basketball… you get the point.
You will be competing with every other activity that a child of this age is involved in, and today that can mean a lot. Plus, tweens that are involved in competitive sports tend to be much more competitive and committed to their sport of choice than, say, your average seven-year-old.
An example: I was an active baseball player in my youth that qualified for many of the traveling teams in our area. We practiced twice a week, played 12 regular-season games and 16-20 travel games from May to September, and I still had quite a bit of time to shoot over the summer.
Now, I know several different parents whose children belong to an adolescent traveling baseball team in a northern-tier state that begins the season in January!
This is not to say that a child who is very active in sports will not have time or desire to participate in shooting sports. As a matter of fact, it is often quite the contrary. These children experience shooting, most likely find it enjoyable, but as they move “onward and upward” in their sport they find less and less time to participate in multiple activities. They put shooting aside for the most part, but then, when their career in sports is over, find that they want to participate in something active and sometimes even competitive as they grow up.
My own son became heavily involved in hockey as a youngster, eventually making the cut to play for a Junior-level hockey team (a level between high school and professional hockey). His season, even as a 14-year-old, went from October to April, with additional training and drills beginning in August. Conversely, his participation in hunting was limited to a few times per year and, as he got older, to almost none at all. Now, as a young adult in his twenties, he has bought his own firearms and shoots recreationally as well as hunts with us again.
A lot of kids also start dropping out of sports in big numbers at the tween stage. Playing sports loses its enjoyment for them and the fun they experienced in recreational leagues and organizations takes a back seat to winning. Pick-up games and just playing for fun that should be encouraged usually are not. The key at this vulnerable stage is to keep kids playing the sports they enjoy, and if you’ve already had some fun introductory sessions with them at the range before this occurs, one of those sports could be shooting. Not being on a team at this age does not mean that they have failed as athletes. It just means that they are looking to find other pleasurable ways to continue enjoying sports.
Here is where shooting and firearms can really shine. Let’s use Tim, my son’s friend referenced in the beginning of this book. Tim was physically challenged. I’ve taught dozens of kids with challenges like Tim, as well as kids in wheelchairs, kids with Attention Deficit Disorder, kids who were the strongest and biggest in their class, and kids who were the smallest and weakest.
There is a famous saying that “God created man, but Sam Colt made them equal.” I once watched an elite hockey player get absolutely schooled on the trap range by a wheelchair-bound girl (in his defense, she was an elite-level shooter).
It also means that, due to an almost unlimited array of options open to them, you need to catch their attention immediately. Over the course of an afternoon, a child can be faced with simple choices like, “Do I want a burger or a hot dog? Should I play angry birds right now or Jetpack Joyride? iPad or iPhone?” They also face more complex choices, like, “Which of the 200+ television channels should I watch? Should I DVR all three shows and watch one, or watch a different one and watch those three later? Then should I ride my bike or play my Xbox?”
That is just a small sample of one day that you’ll be competing with. So, how do you determine the steps you should take when introducing a tween to firearms, their use and safety?
INTRODUCING FIREARMS TO TWEENS
As with all proper introductions, the very first thing you should discuss is safety. The parts and mechanisms of the weapon and the “dangerous end” compared to the “safe end” should be discussed at the beginning of every session with every level of youth that you introduce.
With a tween, it’s all about the “wow” factor and grabbing their attention immediately. Not as content to punch holes in paper as a younger child might be, you may need to introduce a reactive target to hold their attention. With tweens I will often add a little surprise by using an exploding target, such as Tannerite.
Many tweens will already have a basic knowledge and interest in guns. Most have experienced video games, a great deal of which are of the “first-person shooter” variety. This can be of great benefit or detriment, and depends on the child. (We more thoroughly examine video games and their effects on kids and guns in Chapter 6.)
After our speech on safety and the importance of immediate obedience of any and all instructions while on the range, I always start an introduction of firearms to youth with the demonstration of power.
It gets the point across rather well, and shows them immediately that no matter what type of weapon you are using it has great destructive power. (For how to set up the demonstration of power, refer to Chapter 10.)
With tweens, you may need to introduce a reactive target to hold their attention.
I believe it is always good to relate what you are doing to things that are relevant and pertinent to the child, their social group, and their background/demographic. That can mean a different approach in instruction between a group of urban kids and rural kids.
Why is that? For the most part, rural kids tend to have a much greater familiarity with firearms and what they are used for. Usually someone in their network of family or friends has guns, uses guns, hunts, shoots or uses a gun to protect livestock from predators like coyotes. Those kids require a much different instruction than a child who has grown up thinking that “country” means an open space of greater than five acres.
Following are the steps I use in introducing tweens to firearms.
1. Do something exciting right away to captivate their attention. This can be something as simple as shooting a soda can of water. Tannerite works well with this crowd, and better if it is a complete surprise.
2. Whenever possible, I use reactive targets with tweens, as I find they become bored easily with shooting paper. Some of my favorites are clay pigeons or small balloons staked out on a string in the wind. If reactive targets are unavailable or not allowed, I find that some of the new Zombie targets that have a color change when shot can make things more interesting.
The tween stage can be a good time to introduce competition.
3. Play the “video game” card. Earlier we mentioned that many tweens have first-person-shooter-type gaming experience. Being a parent who has experienced a decade of tween issues, interests and activities, I can usually come up with some references to relevant or at least familiar games with which youths I am instructing can relate.
4. Introduce competition. Tweens, especially male tweens, are in a constant state of competition. They compete for attention, they compete in sports and they compete for social status. Remember, shooting is a level playing field. It is often exciting to see the small outshoot the large, the girl outshoot the boy, etc. If you are only working with one child, use prior target scores, reactive target hits per session, etc. to establish competition against previous performance. We will discuss competition more extensively in Chapter 14.
RECOMMENDED FIREARMS FOR TWEENS
Full power, full-sized air rifles
20-gauge shotguns, preferably semi-automatic
Full-sized .22-caliber rifles
I do not recommend handguns for an introduction to firearms at this age.
MYTH: A .410 IS AN EXCELLENT FIRST SHOTGUN FOR A YOUTH
At best, a .410 is a good caliber (the .410 is a bore diameter, rather than a gauge determination) for an initial introduction to the concept of a shotgun for a smaller-framed shooter, and then at stationary targets only. It has the advantages of light weight and low recoil, sometimes referred to as “kick.” (By the way, try not to use this highly negative connotation when describing recoil. Would you like to be ‘kicked”?)
But, the .410 is actually a “shooter’s shotgun.” That is, it gives several large handicaps to the shooter in the form of substantially less shot (meaning it is harder to hit a moving target with it, as shotguns are designed to do), and it’s generally light weight decreases the inertia when swinging through a moving target, tending to stop the shooter’s swing and resulting in a missed target.
A much better choice for a young shooter is a youth-sized, semi-automatic 20-gauge. The semi-automatic action uses some of the firearm’s recoil to cycle the action, and you can get light, low-recoil loads for introduction and practice, as well as heavier, more energy-producing loads for target games or hunting.