Ralphie's Folks and Holiday Parenting

Dec 22, 2011

A good Christmas movie usually includes a miracle.  There was “The Miracle on 34th Street.” There were the ghosts who redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge.  And, in “A Christmas Story,” there are two miracles.  Ralphie gets his BB gun.   And, despite some mistakes, Ralphie’s parents have two happy and healthy kids. 

70 years after it was first uncovered in “A Christmas Story,” what nine-year-old Ralphie Parker described as “the conspiracy of irrational prejudice against” the BB gun continues.  Plenty of parents can still be found who “know nothing about creeping marauders burrowing through the snow toward the kitchen where only you and you alone stand between your tiny, huddled family and insensate evil.”  A member of the conspiracy is Lexington mom Myra Beth Bundy.

“Because I’d be afraid they’d shoot their eye out,” said Bundy

Bundy is a mother of five, four of them boys.  So far, none of them have asked for a BB gun and she hopes they don’t.

“I have a strong desire to not have my boys play with weapon-toys, but, I don’t want to go so far about that, that I make them become more obsessed with them, or think about them more, or want them more,” said Bundy.

In managing such an obsession, Bundy has an edge. She’s a child psychologist who teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. Doctor Bundy says most kids Ralphie’s age are, by nature, materialistic.  While an adult might wish for peace on earth, a nine-year-old thinks true happiness can be found in a box. 

Such knowledge gives champions of the anti-BB gun movement an edge.  If done with skill, Bundy says, a parent can shift a child’s obsession to a different toy.

“I don’t know if I would have been effective, Ralphie was pretty serious about this.  But, if I had been the mother, I probably would have tried distraction, for one thing.  I would have probably have tried to think, ‘geesh, what else might Ralphie like?  What else would be pretty interesting, but not as dangerous as a B-B gun,” said Bundy.

That was Mrs. Parker’s parenting mistake.  Instead of taking charge of the situation and pushing a viable alternative, she based her argument on fear.

That doesn’t mean those fears are groundless.  Each year, The U-S Consumer Product Safety Commission says four people are killed by BB guns or pellet rifles. 

Unlike Ralphie’s Red Ryder, which was first manufactured in 1940, the modern BB gun is much more hazardous.  Susan Pollack with the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center says they have faster muzzle velocities.

“BB guns use to be things people played with when we were little, but, they’ve improved them to be bigger, better, faster, stronger models.  So, they have much more power than they had when we were little and now they can shoot people, if you shoot somebody through the eye, it might just go into their brain, and they can shoot people into their chests.  And, so BB guns have become really, like, small, real weapons,” said Pollack

Even the Red Ryder’s relatively slow muzzle velocity still poses a risk.  It can indeed severely damage an eye.

Balancing fun and safety is a problem Pollack and many parents wrangle with every December.  Alongside B-B guns, Pollack worries about their modern-day equivalents…such as the All-Terrain-Vehicle.  Whether buying an ATV or a BB gun, she urges parents to minimize the risks.

“If you’re going to go buy a BB gun, if you’re going to, have to give into that peer pressure, if you will, if you can make the safest choice in that group, and make sure they have protective equipment and supervision, then, I guess, that’s the best advice I could give,” said Pollack.

Despite a wall of warnings from people like Susan Pollack, Ralphie’s mom, his teacher and even Santa Claus, on Christmas morning, the boy acquired “an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.”  “The Old Man” slipped one near the Christmas tree.

At the risk of gender stereotyping, Bundy says, moms tend to be more protective, while dads are more adventurous.  That’s the beauty of a two-parent household…she says they provide a child with a balanced upbringing.

“Supposedly, one of the advantages of having two adults raising a child, or children, is that a child can see different perspectives, a child can learn about how two adults may work out conflict between the two of them, so I think it’s good for Ralphie to have parents disagreeing on this issue.  Now, it may not be great that the father snuck the BB gun under the tree, but I’m sure Ralphie got to see the two of them have a discussion about it, don’t you think?” said Bundy.

Such fatherly advice, according to Joe Murphin, is comedic, but won’t win anyone a prize for parenting.  Murphin heads marketing for Daisy Outdoor Products…the Arkansas company that makes the Red Ryder Air Rifle.   

B-B gun experts in the audience can only watch with horror when they see Ralphie has hung a paper target over an old-metal sign.  The projectile bounces back, just missing an eye.  Joe Murphin, who heads marketing for Arkansas-based Daisy Outdoor Products, says “the old man” didn’t do his job.

“No he didn’t.  He sat there in his bathrobe with his bowling ball on the sofa and he didn’t get up and do his job.  That’s the sad part of the movie and thankfully everything came out okay and the only victim was a pair of child’s glasses.”

That was Mr. Parker’s mistake.  On every BB-gun Daisy makes, Murphin says parents are reminded to provide proper adult supervision.  

Murphin has a theory about the appeal of “A Christmas Story.”  He says people like it because it refreshes a special childhood memory…

“The Red Ryder BB gun, or your first BB gun, whatever it was, is an important memory because, if you stop and think about it, it meant that your parents believed in you, believed that you were mature enough to handle the responsibility,” said Murphin.

Psychologist Myra Beth Bundy finds such “spin” interesting, but, draws a different lesson.

“I just think you have to use your own best judgment.  Only you know your child and what you think your child can handle.  Ralphie’s mom thought she knew him pretty well and it turned out she did know him pretty well.  He had some problems with the gun,” said Bundy.

As each mom and dad knows, no parent is perfect and we can only strive to be “good enough” and learn to live with the guilt. Easy answers are elusive.  Plus, ideal parents can make a movie pretty boring.  So, we give Ralphie’s folks the benefit of the doubt and each year share in Ralphie’s triumph and sympathize as his parents struggle to keep him and his brother both happy and safe.