We have always been very careful about the media our kids are exposed to, and their TV and movie viewing is very much restricted to non-violence (both physical violence and social aggression like name-calling, bad language, etc). The kids toys are limited as far as weapons go-- there is some exposure to things like pirate cannons and knight's swords, but no big swords, guns, etc for them to use. My 6-yr-old son was very recently allowed to get a police officer figure with a holstered gun after he pointed out that he knows (from our discussions) that police officers carry gun for protection but that their job is to protect and not to hurt people and that most police officers never even actually use them. Anyway, non-violence is very much a family value and this is how it has been since my step-daughter was a baby.
However, this is VERY MUCH not the case at my step-daughter's mom's house. She watches a lot of movies that are made for teens/adults, and last year they started watching Star Wars. Because of this (as well as the kids' natural curiosity about this type of play and the inevitable exposure from friends and school), we have, over the last year, had lots of discussions about why that type of play isn't allowed at our house, with reasons ranging from worrying about their personal safety to studies about the effects of media violence (discussed in a way that is age-appropriate for the various ages). Superhero and good-guy/bad-guy play has been allowed, but it's always revolved around superpowers and bad acts (stealing something, for example) and not weaponry. Since the younger three haven't had any exposure to media portrayals of bad guys or superheros, it was all still imaginative play and not reenactments of stuff they'd seen.
So, anyway, mostly because of my step-daughter's obsession with it, and because of the age of the older two, this summer I lightened up a little bit about the Star Wars stuff and the Super Hero stuff. I let a couple things slide, I let the two older kids attend a meeting of a "Star Wars Club" at the local library, I let my son check out a superhero book at the library... I let the six-yr-old hold onto his "light saber" balloon that the clown made for him at a friend's birthday party. My theory was that we would continue the conversation about violence and non-violence, other ways to solve problems, the realities of hurting other people, etc...
Well, my moment of weakness was like opening the floodgates. Because my step-daughter has watched these movies, she has all kinds of information about shooting and killing and different weapons... She isn't using her imagination but is recreating scenes from the (inappropriate) movies she has seen. It's become an obsession with the older two and the 4-year-old wants to play with the big kids (like she always has) and it is really bothering me that she is being exposed to this stuff. She is also somewhat uncomfortable with it-- the other day she was upset because her older brother said she couldn't play their game because she refused to "make a weapon" to play with.
It's been hard to engage them in a conversation about it because my step-daughter gets defensive and it seems to hurt her feelings (or something) to talk about it and the older kids kind of shut down or tune out.
Any thoughts on how I can reign it back in? Is there any hope on closing the floodgates that I unintentionally opened, without putting a ban on it altogether (since I believe that would just make them hide it rather than actually stop them from playing it)? We have always been careful to talk about differences between our two houses (our dietary choices, our TV choices, finances, etc) in a way that doesn't paint one family's choices as "better" than the other, or that indicates we think her mom is making inappropriate choices for her... but this one is posing more of a problem for me. any hope that they will tire of it on their own? Any suggestions for other topics that might capture their interest for dramatic play that doesn't involve violence?
Anyway, sorry so long. I would love to hear other people's ideas and perspectives on the topic in general, and specifically how I might handle the aspect related to raising one child who is exposed to very different media and play at her other house...