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My 10 year old son wants to play Grand Theft Auto V, which is PEGI 18.

My son has ADHD and I'm really worried that he will start acting like his favourite characters in the games and I don't want him to play it.

Should I let him play it or not? It's his birthday really soon, so should I give him the game?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. All comments made here which are not in keeping with the purpose of comments on SE will be deleted. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Mar 14 '17 at 20:22
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    Just something that hasn't necessarily been mentioned in some answers but which is definitely relevant: it isn't just a violent game, there are many violent games. It's a game that forces the player to torture people and has extremely prominent male and female nudity, all within the main story. – Miles Rout Mar 20 '17 at 4:18
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    This is definitely not an answer but my perspective. I also have ADHD (and it changes nothing at all regarding that, not sure why you mention that). I have owned multiple consoles since I was 8 or so (I'm 16 now). I played violent games like GTA too, and I surely am not "acting like" a mass murderer (neither am I one), mostly because I have values and know what's right and wrong. It all comes down to you, but "violent games are making my kids violent" is something I never saw (or read) happen in real life. – Ave Mar 20 '17 at 5:01
  • Another relevant point that I didn't see mentioned by others: if your son wants to play GTA V really bad and you won't buy him the game, he might find alternative means of playing it, like (a) installing a pirated copy of the game or (b) go to a friend's house and play it there. If you deny him access to the game (which I hope you did/will), then I also suggest monitoring what he's doing on his computer, what he's doing while at a friend's house etc. – Radu Murzea Apr 11 '17 at 9:03

13 Answers 13

178

You say that you don't want him to play it -- that's your answer, you should not buy it for him. Parents set the rules.

Explaining why you aren't buying it can help him accept this decision more gracefully. It's an adult-rated game and he isn't (nearly!) old enough, you disagree with the content and lifestyle that it's portraying, you're concerned he will think that behavior is acceptable and start imitating it... have a conversation about the game's problems and your reasons, but simultaneously make it clear this isn't a negotiation.


If you're searching for an appropriate game for his birthday, look for other games with similar play but less graphic plot. It's likely he would be far more interested in the fast car driving (and maybe even crashes and explosions) than in the gangs, murders, prostitutes, and plot-based aspects of the game. And there are plenty of crashy, explody car racing games that don't build a story around criminality, instead focusing on the cars.

At ten years old, most games PEGI 12 are probably acceptable; you can also use sites like Common Sense Media to help understand the details of what content earned it that rating. The summary of the GTA V rating, for example:

Parents need to know that Grand Theft Auto V is an M-rated action game brimming with gang violence, nudity, extremely coarse language, and drug and alcohol abuse. It isn't a game for kids. Playing as hardened criminals, players kill not only fellow gangsters but also police officers and innocent civilians using both weapons and vehicles while conducting premeditated crimes, including a particularly disturbing scene involving torture. Women are frequently depicted as sexual objects, with a strip club mini-game allowing players to fondle strippers' bodies, which are nude from the waist up. Players also have the opportunity to make their avatars use marijuana and drink alcohol, both of which impact their perception of the world. None of the main characters in the game makes for a decent role model. All of them are criminals who think of themselves first and others rarely at all. Few games are more clearly targeted to an adult audience.

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    I appreciate that this is a very interesting (question and) answer. However, comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – anongoodnurse Mar 14 '17 at 20:30
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    This a good answer. I want to further emphasize to talk to your child about it. Children are people too, and need good answers as to why so their brains and processes the new information. – Jeff.Clark Mar 18 '17 at 1:09
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    +1 for the quote. That torture scene deeply disturbed me and I'm 24 and like to think of myself as well adjusted. I shudder to think what that would do to an impressionable 10 year old. – JamesENL Mar 20 '17 at 8:33
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    While this is clearly the correct answer for a child of 10, it could also apply to a child of any age that still lived at home. "When you are out on your own you can make your own choices until then this game is in conflict with the values of this home." – Pete B. Mar 21 '17 at 17:22
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In addition to the pretty good answers already provided, I'd like to point out that GTA 5 is not in any way suitable for a 10 year old. There is one specific mission that gives a very good example why this game might not even be appropriate for some younger adults:

The mission "By the Book" requires the player to torture another person using waterboarding, hitting with a wrench, electric shocks etc. Further info: http://gta.wikia.com/wiki/By_the_Book

Of course, ultimately it comes down to your judgment as a parent.

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    +1. Thank you for the thoughtful hiding of violence. Way to go! – anongoodnurse Mar 14 '17 at 20:32
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    Please keep comments on topic to the question/answer -- for tangential issues, use Parenting Chat. – Acire Mar 15 '17 at 17:03
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    And said "one specific mission" isn't just some side thing you can avoid. It is a critical main story mission that you have to complete if you want to proceed with the story. – Peter Green Mar 18 '17 at 4:24
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I guess it boils down to whether you think your son can cope with the content, i.e. can distinguish between the fiction and reality and process the displayed emotions and actions, or not. In my experience 10 year olds usually can't do this well enough on their own yet for content presented in the GTA series.

As a rule of thumb, our son, now also ten years of age, has been and is allowed to consume media rated roughly two years above his age. There are exceptions, but for those I have seen the movie or played the game myself first. Also, for those exceptions, he is not left alone, so I am there to talk about what happens on the screen and answer questions when they arise, ultimately helping him to understand the difficult parts. I'd also like to add, that I think my son is more mature than most of his friends.

So, to address your question, the short answer is "No, you should not buy your 10 year old son GTA V". If, however, you want to invest the time and effort to play this game with or alongside your son, you can grant him his wish. At least you will start to notice in time if and when it turned out to be a bad idea. Knowing the GTA series, I would not advise it though.

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Wrong expectations lead to disappointment. Let him know in advance that GTA is not what he's getting for his birthday and ask him what he wants instead.

You and others who raise the kid (partner, grandparents, etc) should also start discussing some more questions that will come up soon:

  • What's your take on age appropriate content in other media (games, film at home, film at the cinema, comics, music, books, internet, etc)?
  • How do you react if he receives a present which you think is not age appropriate?
  • What will you do when he buys something not age appropriate the first time?
  • What's your stance on him playing not age-appropriate games at a friend's house?

I do not think any of these have a universal answer. But it's better to have an answer when the time comes, one that's consistent among his parents.

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I'm going to play the devil's advocate here as most of the answers are very similar. By age 10, barring a severe development disability, a child knows what is and isn't real (https://news.utexas.edu/2006/11/27/psychology).

I played games that weren't always what was considered age appropriate (Doom, Wolfenstein, etc - probably at age 10 or younger; I also had ADHD as a child). I didn't play with real guns, nor saw them as toys, nor did I go around knifing Nazis. Yes, the child may play-act some parts of the game, but that doesn't mean they'll go on to actually embrace a life of crime and ill-repute. It's just a game. Children come up with all kinds of weird and messed up games on their own.

You should talk to your son about why he wants the game. (Is it the play style? If so a comment mentioned a similar game that was child friendly, which I'd think would be a good compromise). If it's just to impress his friends by having an "adult" game, you can look for the "worst" game you can tolerate him playing (maybe one that just has a lot of gore without the crime/sex workers/substance abuse angles? depending on your exact objections to the game). This doesn't necessarily have to be a win-lose situation.

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    @Anoplexian ADHD normally doesn't make a 10 year old have the mental capacity of a five year old (which if you clicked my link, is the higher range of when children are normally able to distinguish fantasy from reality) - which is why I specified a SEVERE developmental disability, which ADHD generally isn't (it maybe can be, hence that disclaimer). – McCann Mar 15 '17 at 20:36
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    While I think the game is trash and not really appropriate regardless of age, I like this answer, especially the talk to your son about why... part. Whether you decide to get him the game or not, this is an important conversation to have that can lead into conversations about what he sees in it and how he interprets his peers' attitudes toward the content in such a game. – R.. Mar 15 '17 at 23:32
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    As a parent, I have exactly zero interest in helping my child(ren) "impress" their friends by consuming "adult" media, so YMMV. Perhaps a discussion about peer pressure and other similar factors would be more appropriate in such a situation. – Kyle Strand Mar 16 '17 at 21:18
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    That a child does not emulate exactly what is in an "adult" story does not mean that the child has not picked up a lot of questionable assumptions and expectations. If your child doesn't learn to beat up prostitutes, good, but has the game changed how your 10-year-old views prostitution? It would be hard for it not to have a significant effect. Good luck trying to turn it into a teachable moment. – Douglas Zare Mar 17 '17 at 7:51
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    @McCann Worth pointing out perhaps that there's no point system rewarding bad driving. The only 'reward' is that you end up getting to your goals faster. The universe of GTA is a crass caricature of reality, not a model of how things are or should be. I've not met anyone who's actually played these games who was incapable of realizing this. – Cubic Mar 17 '17 at 14:21
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Try it yourself before you buy it, and/or watch an IGN or related video game review. GTA V has been out for a few years now so there will be plenty of opportunities to rent or buy it used for a reasonably low price. Parents should ALWAYS play or thoroughly review Mature-level games before letting their kids claim ownership of one. If you feel he can handle it but you question the very immoral aspects of the game you've yet to encounter, play it with him. I'd personally recommend that you always play with your severely underage children, if/when they play mature games.

You're (sincerely hopefully) not buying this game to help babysit him while you're off doing other things, so, within your control, use every adult situation he experiences as a time to bond and educate. Video games and films are possibly the best scenarios to put this in context: you're in a private setting, away from judgmental adults, and in prime control of the situation. The toughest part about being a parent is dealing with the fact that your children will face (or have faced) adult situations without being prepared. I write this from personal experience; my mother allowed me to watch very graphic, R-rated (18+) films when I was a kid (as young as 10 [games hadn't become nearly as explicit back then]) but she did so only if I could tell her what to expect (i.e. reference newspaper reviews I had researched) and she had the time to watch it with me. She often grimaced at sex and violence but it always followed with an open and honest discussion (usually her discussing the bad parts and me discussing the 'cool' parts). Eventually, as I got older but still a legal minor, she began to trust my behavior and gave me more freedom to watch independently, but I distinctly remember her being there for many awkward movie moments.

Many parents will disagree with me, but as a parent of young children, a video game enthusiast (and, yes, I've played quite a few hours of GTA V) and a 'diagnosee' of ADHD, your child needs you more than they need alone time in front of a screen. I'm sure you're being honest with yourself: you know he's going to play it eventually (if he hasn't already), either with his friends or sneaking it in from who-knows-where when you're not around. Impress upon him your openness and awareness. Control the situation by limiting the time you experience it together. Discuss how you feel after or during each session and encourage open communication.

If you feel he's not ready for this game, I suggest a crash-and-burn style game like Burnout Paradise. It has lots of driving exploration, high-speed pursuits and big explosions without the sex, drugs and mutilations. There are more recent games with a similar motif but I personally enjoy it the best and go back to play it often with my kids.

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    One problem is that games are long. With a movie you can watch the whole thing through in one evening, with a game it will likely take you many evenings just to complete the main story. I would be very wary of assuming that just plyaing the first few missions will give you a complete picture of the game's content. – Peter Green Mar 14 '17 at 19:19
  • Very true and I didn't have the benefit of technology in my youth to binge watch shows with my parents. I would compare it to watching the entire The Walking Dead series with your kid if they wanted to watch it. Limiting play time is just as necessary as watch time and will certainly be enforced if you, as a parent, are moderating. I'm giving this mother the benefit of the doubt she's an attentive and engaging parent. – Steve Hynding Mar 15 '17 at 23:21
  • @PeterGreen Certainly, but the first few hours do give you a pretty good idea. – Cubic Mar 17 '17 at 14:22
  • @Cubic I disagree. The mission based on simulated torture is at least a few hours in, especially if you are a GTA novice. – jwg Mar 20 '17 at 8:15
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Would you allow your son to go to a strip club and grope the strippers who are giving him a lap dance? (Only when the bouncers aren't looking of course.) Because you can do that in this game, and it is very realistic.

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I've played this game and it is definitely not age appropriate. The whole game is based on being a criminal and committing crimes in exchange for money.

As an adult you can understand that what you are doing is bad and often illegal but is well within the scope of the game and that should you do such things in the "real world" you'd likely be sent to prison for committing a crime. As a child, you may not have that same understanding, even if you say you do.

As an example, you can steal a car. It's done in about 2 seconds and if there is no police around that's often the end of the crime within the game. That obviously isn't the case in reality. That's mild compared to what you can do in game.

The sad truth however is that if your son wants to play that game, he's going to find a way. You can't him protect from that. Instead it may be worth explaining why you don't want him playing the game.

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    Better than explaining why you don't want him to is getting him to explain why he does. – R.. Mar 15 '17 at 23:40
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This is your decision. But as you make it also consider that you cannot control your child at every moment of every day, and it is very likely your child will still find a way to be exposed to this game. So it boils down to whether you are comfortable with that, or perhaps you feel more comfortable allowing the game so you can guide them through processing what they see.

And if you are in a shared custody joint-parenting situation this becomes really important. I chose to forbid my kids from this game at that age, but later found out they played it all the time while under their other parent's custody at sleep-overs without any adult supervision happening.

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GTA V not for a 10 years old child! It has lots of swearing, lot of killing, option to go to a strip club so nudity as well. It's better if you sit down with him and explain why you won't be able to buy him that game right now.

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"make it clear this isn't a negotiation."

The top answer suggested this. Don't do this. One of the most important things to teach a child is negotiation. If instead you teach a child that it is my way because I have power, then don't be surprised if the child applies this learned behavior in situations where he has power in his relationships.

Instead, you should discuss your concerns and explain them (as appropriate for your child's age), and negotiate. Understand how important the game is to him, and work with him to find an alternative. At 10, your child is old enough to sufficiently be able to negotiate with you to find a mutual solution, assuming you've taught him this skill.

Propose giving him something else he wants, doing something with him, not doing something he doesn't like you to do, taking him on vacation, etc. The point is to set a model for your child how to peacefully negotiation to reach a solution, instead of relying on your power to force the outcome.

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    J.Doe - the rep requirement is there for a reason: to prevent trivial comments on a post. Using an answer to get around this is not the way to do things. This may seem pedantic, but there are good reasons for this. – Rory Alsop Mar 14 '17 at 17:51
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    I did say "make it clear this isn't a negotiation", but in the broader context it's also apparent I wasn't proposing to tell a child because I said so -- rather, there are reasons this game will not be purchased for you, and they are [list]. If there's not going to be a way for somebody to negotiate for purchasing the game, it's a lot more of a power play to pretend it's negotiable and still not accept their argument. – Acire Mar 14 '17 at 17:54
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    Parents need to teach their children why certain desires are wrong, instead of finding ways to satisfy those desires. Many people, including children, really really want things that they should not get, and their parents must say "No, not negotiable." – jkdev Mar 15 '17 at 3:05
  • @jkdev: There's a lot of nuance, and some matter-of-opinion, to "should not get". If what they want is to torture animals (or other kids) then it's obvious and of course non-negotiable and something where they have to learn, one way or another, that it's wrong. But most things parents don't want children to get are not fundamentally wrong, but have varying mix of positive and negative outcomes, and in most of those cases you're going to have a lot better luck framing things as a discussion (and possibly negotiation) of those than as "it's wrong". – R.. Mar 16 '17 at 23:08
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    OK, point taken. There's a spectrum. It's still up to parents to set boundaries, and to make it clear which things are Right and Wrong, Allowed and Not Allowed. And as for positive and negative effects, from a game that teaches its players how to live the life of a horrible criminal... I can't imagine it having a net positive effect on the healthy development of an impressionable child. – jkdev Mar 17 '17 at 0:29
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There is a really rigorous process that goes behind the rating of video games. I don't think you should buy any child that game, you don't think you should and if you live in the UK the government will slap you with a five thousand pounds fine and/or six months jails sentence if they catch anyone selling age-inappropriate games to minors.

So let us delve just a little bit deeper into what exactly PEGI 18 rating and what that means for your child.

As of the posting of this answer, there are 5 ratings possible for a game to get. The website gives the following as to explain the ratings.

PEGI 3 The content of games given this rating is considered suitable for all age groups. Some violence in a comical context (typically Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry cartoon-like forms of violence) is acceptable. The child should not be able to associate the character on the screen with real life characters, they should be totally fantasy. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to scare or frighten young children. No bad language should be heard. PEGI 7 Any game that would normally be rated at 3 but contains some possibly frightening scenes or sounds may be considered suitable in this category.

PEGI 12 Videogames that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy character and/or non graphic violence towards human-looking characters or recognisable animals, as well as videogames that show nudity of a slightly more graphic nature would fall in this age category. Any bad language in this category must be mild and fall short of sexual expletives.

PEGI 16 This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. More extreme bad language, the concept of the use of tobacco and drugs and the depiction of criminal activities can be content of games that are rated 16.

PEGI 18 The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence and/or includes elements of specific types of violence. Gross violence is the most difficult to define since it can be very subjective in many cases, but in general terms it can be classed as the depictions of violence that would make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion. Descriptors shown on the back of the packaging indicate the main reasons why a game has received a particular age rating. There are eight such descriptors: violence, bad language, fear, drugs, sexual, discrimination, gambling and online gameplay with other people.

PEGI also has one there website a database of most games and a descriptions of their rating. I found GTA 5's rating and here is the synopsis.

Grand Theft Auto V Take2 Interactive Software Europe ltd The content of this game is suitable for persons aged 18 years and over only. It contains: Extreme violence - Multiple, motiveless killing - Violence towards defenceless people - Strong language System: PC Genre: Action Releasedate: 2015-03-24

So you ask should I buy this for my child, I sure would not.

Source1 Source2

  • I don't think the OP is considering selling the game to a minor, I suspect it would be given as a gift if it were to be given. – Vality Mar 19 '17 at 16:52
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    It should be pointed out that legally speaking, parents are perfectly entitled to buy age-restricted movies or games and give them to their children. The restriction is on retailers selling directly to children. – jwg Mar 20 '17 at 8:17
  • To be entirely fair; it has been proven time and time again that the review board does have religious and political biases. – Weckar E. Mar 22 '17 at 7:59
  • I wouldnt think that religious people are the only people who think murdering prostitutes is wrong. – Neil Meyer Mar 22 '17 at 19:18
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I wouldn't say just, "No, it would harm you."

I would say, "No, and I found something else that might interest you," with an alternate offering like Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming.

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    Oh come on I like programming and dislike GTA and even I would be offended by a switch like that. That's pretty much saying not only "No", but "No, and I think you're gullible enough that I will try to distract you with shiny things. Only they are not even shiny." Consider coming to your boss and asking him whether you can start working on the cool new project in a field you like and will look great on your resume only to have him respond "No can't have you doing that, But the toilet really needs mopping." – DRF Mar 20 '17 at 6:06

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