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Airsoft is a pretty popular hobby sport in many countries, including the United States.
Given the relative prominence of firearms in most modern video games, tv shows and movies, it is perhaps no surprise that airsoft also tends to attract the interest of kids and teens.
The prospect of owning highly detailed replicas of Glocks, AKs or M4s that you can actually run around with while shooting targets, friends and strangers with plastic BBs in a relatively safe manner can be very attractive to young minds (and hands).
And if you’re a parent who is or has been into airsoft, or have an older relative who is into it, then it should come as no surprise when your child starts asking for their own replica.
After all – monkey see, monkey do.
If you’re a parent of a child who has begun to show an interest in airsoft, then read on as we discuss age and some other important things you need to consider before buying them their first airsoft gun.
What is Airsoft (In Brief)
Airsoft is a hobby sport enjoyed by individuals around the world where users handle and use smoothbore replica air-powered firearms that fire rounded plastic BBs at targets at relatively low speeds, as measured ahead of time by a chronograph by officials.
Usually played as a team sport either indoors or out, players typically run around a field trying to eliminate the opposing team by shooting them with their airsoft guns and simultaneously trying to avoid being shot.
Kind of like a projectile form of tag.
There are any number of game styles that can be enjoyed by airsofters, including high speed skirmishes (speedsoft), close quarters battle (CQB) simulations, live action role playing (LARP), military reenactments and simulations (milsim).
Airsoft guns themselves are also popular as collector’s pieces, as they are often realistically designed and can replicate real life firearms that are either restricted or hard to come by.
They can also be a good option for short distance at home target shooting and backyard plinking.
Airsoft Age Limits and Requirements: Buying Vs Using
In most countries where airsoft is popular, there is a big difference between being able to use an airsoft gun and buying one for yourself.
For the most part, much like real firearms, you have to be 18 or older to purchase an airsoft gun.
As can be seen at many airsoft fields, however, the doesn’t mean that you have to be 18 to USE an airsoft gun.
With proper adult supervision many kids can enjoy this hobby sport and, in fact, in the US, Canada and many other countries there really isn’t a set minimum age to be able to fire one.
That said, many fields do have restrictions when it comes to younger players, such as requiring participants to be of a certain age, usually 12 to 14 years old.
Aside from insurance and liability concerns, this is really just common sense since, although airsoft guns are considerably safer than real firearms, they still can be dangerous when used irresponsibly and can make airsoft gun-equipped children a potential danger to themselves and others.
So, how old do you have to be to play airsoft?
As we’ve mentioned, there really isn’t a real hard and fast rule regarding using airsoft guns, since so much depends on the individual child and their readiness to handle a replica firearm that fires off small plastic BBs in the hundreds of feet per second.
Generally speaking, most people in the airsoft community tend to agree that most (although not all) kids around the age of 12 or so are safe and/or capable enough to have and start using their first airsoft gun.
At this age, and continuing all the way through the teen years, kids are starting to think through the logical consequences of their actions, they should be able to understand and follow directions and rules, they should be able to focus for longer periods of time, they should be better at cooperative play and they should have a firmer idea of right and wrong – all critical things when you’re talking about running around with a projectile-launching device.
At this age, they should also be physically developed enough to safely handle a 5 or 6 pound piece of metal or plastic without dropping or mishandling it.
Before the age of 12 to 14, it’s generally thought that most kids are a little too immature, both cognitively and physically, to really be able to handle an airsoft gun safely.
While it’s perhaps true that the odd 9 year old can play airsoft without issue, by and large, kids under the teen years tend to still be developing in terms of attention span, emotional maturity, sequential thought and so on.
It is, of course, critical to acknowledge that kids develop at radically different rates and what’s true for one child is not true for another.
While one 12 to 14 year old might be perfectly safe using an airsoft gun, another might be a little too immature to keep one around safely.
As a parent, it is ultimately a decision you’ll have to make on your own based on your knowledge of your child’s developing abilities and temperament.
What Dangers Should Parents, Kids And Teens Be Aware Of With Airsoft?
There’s no question that airsoft guns are comparatively safer than a real firearm, airgun or BB gun.
So, the thinking goes, why not go out and buy my child the coolest airsoft carbine, SMG or pistol out there?
The problem for parents thinking this way lies in underestimating the relative dangers of airsoft and the natural curiosity of a child.
While they may be made of plastic and some may look and feel somewhat like a toy, a child or teen should never be left alone with an airsoft gun as it is capable of launching projectile objects at relatively high speed (think 150-450 feet per second).
Misused, an airsoft gun can cause some pretty severe injuries, such as:
- Catastrophic eye injuries potentially resulting in vision loss or blindness
- Ear damage
- Lacerations, abrasions, scarring or assorted foreign body injuries (BBs getting stuck in the skin or muscle)
- Severe tooth and mouth damage
- And much more
Keep Your Kids Safe When Airsofting
While there’s no need to run screaming from airsoft, or dress your kid up like he’s a part of the bomb squad before heading out to the backyard, there are a few very basic and easy things you can do to keep a child (or anyone, for that matter) safe.
Get the best pair of goggles or eye-pro you can
Probably the most common severe injury that can arise from firing little plastic BBs is that one accidentally hits someone in the eye.
Although airsoft guns aren’t all that powerful, the eye is a pretty sensitive organ and can be pretty badly injured by an errant BB.
While parents might be tempted to simply hand their child a pair of ski goggles or cool looking sunglasses, and while there are any number of Z-rated glasses on Amazon and other websites sold for airsoft but really intended for things like outdoor work or target shooting, the only real eye protection that’s worth it is ballistic-rated military spec.
That’s because unlike (most) yard work or plinking at a gun range, people in airsoft are actually shooting back at you.
Ballistic-rated mil spec goggles and eye-pro are rated to withstand high impact and fragmenting materials, such as a plastic BB hitting a person at 400 or so FPS and breaking apart.
And, of course, parents should buy them from a reliable and knowledgeable source.
Make them wear a facemask
There is a fair amount of real estate on the face that is a risk for injury when playing airsoft.
While the risk of permanent, life-altering injury is perhaps not quite as high as when you’re dealing with eyes, we’d bet that few parents want their child coming back from a game with a permanent scar, a broken tooth or fragments of plastic embedded in their face.
A good solution to this is to simply buy a partial or full face mask.
These can be relatively inexpensive and, particularly with mesh versions, can offer a lot of ventilation and even be pretty comfortable to wear.
More importantly, they can go a long way in stopping an errant BB from hitting a child’s face.
There are a lot of options out there when it comes to airsoft face masks, and a good place to start learning more about them would be our rather extensive guide.
Cover their ears
As airsoft guns generally don’t put out the same volume as a real firearm, most parents might overlook the need to protect their child’s ears.
While it’s true that some fields do allow pyrotechnics and this can require some decent hearing protection, in this case we’re really talking about physical injury.
Getting hit with a BB in the ear really, really hurts and there is always a small risk of a BB entering the ear canal, which can result in hearing loss.
For those who eschew a full face mask, companies do sell pretty inexpensive ear protectors for airsoft.
These generally come in mesh versions, which can be pretty comfortable if a bit bulky and do a pretty good job at protecting the ear from any 6mm BB that might come its way.
Some users opt for balaclavas, which may prevent penetration and serious injury but do little for the pain of being hit in the ear with a high speed piece of plastic.
Wear sensible clothing
We’ve all seen YouTube videos showing shirtless teens and adults shooting each other with their airsoft builds to compare results (and get views).
What ends up happening is much as you might expect – a lot of bruising and occasionally some bleeding.
While the summers might be hot and while kids always want to look cool and tough for their friends, it is generally a good idea for airsoft players to wear long sleeves (ideally a thicker shirt) and pants while playing against other people.
Not only can these items of clothing help prevent the usual scrapes and cuts on limbs from running around outside, but they can also go a long way in absorbing some impact and preventing a BB from embedding itself in a player’s skin.
Teach Them To Be Safe
The most important thing a parent can do for their child when it comes to airsoft guns, is to teach them to handle them safely and properly.
This includes teaching them to respect the power of an airsoft gun, whether it’s 200 FPS or 500, and the potential for injury that can result from misuse.
It also means borrowing a page from firearms safety and teaching them to always treat an airsoft gun as if it is loaded, to keep their fingers off the trigger, and to never point it at something that they don’t want to shoot.
Parents also have an extra responsibility – although an airsoft gun looks (and sometimes feels) like a toy, it is a potentially dangerous item and should be kept safely stored away when proper supervision isn’t possible.
What Signs Should Parents Look For That Indicate Their Child Is Ready For Airsoft?
As we’ve said, all children mature differently and the exact age when a child might be ready to safely play airsoft, whether on a field or in the backyard, can vary quite a bit.
Below, we’ve compiled some things you might want to think about if you’re a parent of a young teen who is showing interest in airsoft.
Is My Child Physically Capable of Safely Using An Airsoft Gun?
Although airsoft guns aren’t usually as heavy as a real firearm, nor do they have any real recoil, they are replicas and usually try to match the general dimensions of whatever gun they are based on, which in turn are usually built for adult hands and reach.
As a result, much like a real firearm, younger kids may have a hard time holding an airsoft gun firmly and steadily.
This means they can be prone to wavering off target or even suddenly lowering or raising the gun, which can present a hazard to themselves or others.
As a result, it is important that parents make sure that a child can hold on to an airsoft gun under their own power for some time without fumbling or dropping it.
An airsoft user should be able to comfortably and securely wrap their hand around the grip and, in the case of a rifle or carbine replica, support it with their off-hand.
In a similar vein, although airsoft triggers are usually far easier to pull than a real firearm, parents should still make sure that their child can pull the trigger smoothly, carefully and without jerking the gun.
Can My Child Reliably and Consistently Follow Directions and Instructions?
Parents need to make sure that their child can reliably and consistently listen to and follow safety instructions and rules.
Like an actual firearm, pellet or BB gun, adults need to teach kids how to hold their airsoft gun safely, about trigger discipline, to never look down the barrel or point it at something they don’t want to shoot and to always assume it is loaded.
Similarly, those interested in going to an airsoft field will be expected to adhere to certain rules of play, such as:
- Not to fire blindly
- Not to fire at an opponent’s face or eyes
- To respect minimum engagement distances
- To call their hits
- And so on
Any teen or child interested in airsoft, therefore, must be capable of taking instruction and, more importantly, internalizing them and understanding the potentially dangerous consequences of misuse.
Can My Child Differentiate Between What They See In Media and Real Life?
One of the main draws of airsoft around the world is the ability to pick up a replica of a military spec or famous firearm and actually be able to use it to safely engage in tactical games and skirmishes with others.
This can be an opportunity to replicate military or police scenarios and tactics (such as in milsim or CQB), do some high speed running and gunning (speedsoft), or even role play famous movies, video games or tv shows.
While sneaking around and going for point blank headshots may look cool in a video game or in a movie, but it can be extremely dangerous in real life and is a good way of getting kicked out of an airsoft field very quickly and with extreme prejudice.
In order to avoid disaster, younger airsoft players need to be able to differentiate what might be cool to see in a fictitious setting and what is safe and acceptable in real life.
Considerations For a First Airsoft Gun
If you’ve decided that your child is ready for airsoft, then you’ve probably come to the point where you’re thinking about picking up an appropriate first airsoft gun.
With any number of carbines, shotguns, submachine guns, rifles, pistols, revolvers and even machine guns out there, it can be really hard to decide where to start a young player off.
To help out, we’ve come up with a few suggestions that might be of use.
Start With An AEG
Like with a traditional BB gun, it can be tempting to start a child or teen off with a spring-powered airsoft gun.
These tend to be pretty cheap to buy and fairly simple and reliable to shoot.
However, they do have their issues.
In particular, their spring action can be a little tough for a younger player to use consistently, taking a bit of muscle power, which can get annoying over time and may kill off a child’s interest pretty quickly.
Gas powered airsoft rifles, in the meantime, aren’t all that suitable for younger player, in our opinion.
The use of gas canisters and refills can be tricky at times and even a little dangerous for younger players, and the guns themselves tend to be more expensive than other models on average.
Electric airsoft guns, or AEGs, are usually a good place to start for beginners and young players.
They are battery powered, so don’t really need to be cocked or pumped with every shot, and they tend to offer fairly reliable and consistent performance, especially when they come with proper fuses and MOSFETs or are run using lower powered batteries.
They also tend to be a lot easier to upgrade and modify (depending on the model. of course) compared to gas or spring, allowing the gun to grow with the young player’s needs and interests.
In terms of price, they tend to be a good middle area and there are a lot of options out there, from extreme budget models and up.
There are even specialized low-powered AEG models that can be a good option for parents who are a bit concerned about an airsoft gun’s power.
The Right Size For The Right User
When it comes to kids and an airsoft gun’s dimensions, it can be a bit of a balancing act.
An airsoft gun should be small and light enough for a 12 or 13 year old to handle safely, but also versatile enough to be used in game.
An airsoft carbine rifle is usually a good choice as they tend to have decently long inner barrels (for outdoor performance) and full sized components, but are still easy to carry and maneuver around with.
AR-based carbine models (like an airsoft M4) are usually a good choice for younger players as their stocks are usually telescopic (meaning they can extend and collapse for fit different arm lengths), and it’s usually pretty easy to find and attach accessories (such as vertical fore grips) to help make holding them a lot easier.
We feel parents should avoid airsoft shotguns, as they tend to be a little unusual and finicky.
We also feel that they should avoid airsoft pistols for their young players.
Although pistols can be small and easy to hold on to, they tend to have a lot of small parts, tend not to be as versatile, can have a lot of proprietary and hard to replace components and, as we’ve mentioned, we don’t feel that gas power is really ideal for younger enthusiasts.
While there are electric airsoft pistols out there that sort of act like AEGs, they tend to have some unusual mechanisms and aren’t really a point where they are all that reliable or useful in game.
Keep It Affordable
Kids can be very persuasive when they want to be, and while there is an argument to be made that you get what you pay for, we feel that parents should avoid getting a top of the line airsoft gun for their child to start off with.
Many kids aren’t all that careful with their stuff, airsoft games can get pretty exuberant, and it doesn’t take much to turn an expensive airsoft gun into an expensive paperweight.
In a similar vein, kids and teens tend to be fairly mercurial when it comes to their interests.
What they’re focused on today may not be what they’re into in a few months and it can leave parents with a $400+ airsoft gun sitting in the back of the closet collecting dust.
For those concerned about quality, there are plenty of well-known and well-respected airsoft brands that offer good quality starter models.
Although nothing particularly fancy, they tend to be reliable, cost effective, offer decent performance and can even be fully upgradable, which can extend their potential usefulness quite a bit.
Some brands parents might want to look at include:
- CYMA and their line of starter AKs, such as the CM028
- Specna Arms and their M4 replicas
- ASG and its fairly extensive line up
- JG and Golden Eagle
All these brands tend to have pretty decent and reliable sub-$200 carbines and rifles available that should work well out of the box and last a user for some time.
Airsoft can be a fun and rewarding hobby sport that can get kids outside, active and even positively engaging with others.
To prevent potentially serious and tragic consequences, airsoft guns should be treated with respect by all involved and only be handled to those who can show the basic maturity and responsibility of using one.
David Lewis – A longtime airsoft and airgun enthusiast and collector, our editor David’s lifelong passion for tactical sports began in high school with some friends, a cheap knock-off airsoft M4, and an open field behind his parents’ house.
When he’s not plinking around, he enjoys sharing his knowledge of airsoft and helping those just starting out.