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Appropriate Response to Inappropriate Video Games?


Our 8-year-old son is seeing kids play graphic video games on portable gaming units. The most recent title was “Call of Duty,” with which we are familiar. We talked about the violence and realism of such games and contrasted it with other games that we play together, like “Cooking Fever,” but I feel like our explanation was a bit too long and a bit over his head. Do you have some talking points aimed at an 8-year-old that might help us be more succinct and to the point on why those games aren’t appropriate for kids his age, even though his peers are playing? Thanks in advance.


Talking points aren’t going to get you where you want to be. By the way your question is worded, I can tell what you want is to come up with the “right” explanation that, when you present it to your 8-year-old son, he will look at you and say, “Gee, Mom/Dad. When you put it that way, I totally get why I can’t play ‘Call of Duty.’ ‘Cooking Fever’ is definitely more appropriate for me.”

You fell into the trap that many parents can’t avoid stepping into these days: That if you just say it in the right way, with the right data to back it up, your child will see the light and agree with you. But that’s a fantasy because it. Will. Never. Happen.

That’s because kids aren’t logical beings. They want things to be the way they want, not as things really are. All kids can’t see beyond what they want right now, and they can’t see the danger or harm in the decisions we make as their parents.

You probably did talk too much and offer boring, adult-logic as to why an second or third grader can’t play an R-rated violent video game. Your son’s eyes probably did glaze over and I’m sure he didn’t respond in the positive, affirming way you wanted him to—and probably started arguing with you that “all his friends are playing it.” Which is likely to be true.

But just because “all of his friends are playing it,” doesn’t mean you have to cave. Being the grownup in the room means you have to take the tough stands…and give your child permission to throw you under the bus as the mean, old Mom/Dad who won’t let him play those video games. I often tell my kids when I make a decision like that it’s fine for them to blame me because they can’t do this, or have that, or go there. I’m happy to be the “terrible” mom because I’m the adult—I don’t need an 8-year-old’s approval (or 15-year-old’s either!).

As to how to respond to the question as to why you’re not letting your son play those games (or do X in the future), especially when everyone else is doing it, here’s a short and sweet script: “Son, your mother/father and I have decided that you will not play ‘Call of Duty’ because it doesn’t adhere to our family values. That also means you cannot watch anyone else play it either. You can tell your friends that your mean Mom/Dad wouldn’t let you. I know you’re disappointed, but we love you too much to argue about this decision.” Then walk away.

And expect that he won’t be happy with your decision, but get used to that too. It isn’t our job as parents to make our kids happy—it’s our job to train them up in the way they should go, to keep them safe and to love them. Focus on those three things, and you’ll weather whatever storms come your way in the future.

Let me know how it goes, and hang in there!

Sarah Hamaker, Certified Leadership Parenting Coach
Author of Ending Sibling Rivalry, out now!

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