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My child got a video game from a friend's parent as a "gift". I didn't know what was in the game until we turned it on. For the first few minutes the game looked ok but later got dirty content including blood, gore, drug use, sexual assault, and murder.

My child is only 8 and has not ever been exposed to any of the above or even educated about sexual content at all much less sexual assault. When I told her she can't play this game and that I was taking it away she got really upset and thought I was punishing her. I'm not but she doesn't understand and keeps thinking she's in trouble.

I need her to know that this is not a punishment as she has done nothing wrong but this is for her own safety as such content can be bad for her. I wanted to take her to pick out a new game that's cleaner and more appropriate. What can I do? How can I make her understand that she's not in trouble it's just a really dirty game and I want her to play something that's more family friendly?

  • Welcome to the group, Marnie! I removed the toddler tag because you say your child is 8 and I don't see a second younger child of a toddler age mentioned. If you feel that tag is indeed relevant, feel free to add it back. – Cort Ammon Oct 28 '20 at 2:46
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    Also consider to have a talk to the friend's parent who gave this inappropriate gift to your child. – puck Oct 28 '20 at 11:55
  • Hi, Marnie, I've edited your post to make it easier to read. Please check it to make sure I haven't messed anything up. If I have then click the little "edit" below the tags to change it back. – Paul Johnson Oct 29 '20 at 8:40
  • Details of the PEGI rating scheme are here: pegi.info/what-do-the-labels-mean – Paul Johnson Oct 29 '20 at 8:52
  • Why have you put quotes around "gift"? Do you think this person has an ulterior motive or something? It certainly sounds pretty dubious to me. – Paul Johnson Oct 29 '20 at 8:59
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This is a challenging conversation to be sure, but hopefully it's not the first time you've talked about appropriateness of things with the child - by 8, you should be expecting her to regularly encounter material other parents may consider appropriate but you do not (regardless of how permissive you are).

The core element of the conversation needs to be helping her understand why and how content might be inappropriate. When we have this discussion with our children (around the same age as yours), we talk about a few concepts.

  • Content might be too scary. We explain how games can be scary, and can be scary in ways that they will enjoy when they are older, but aren't old enough to appreciate now. This also includes violence - we don't want them to play violent games, because they aren't able yet to fully differentiate fantasy from reality as compared to an adult.
  • Content they might not understand. This would include sexual content, for example. We explain that some games include topics they don't understand yet, because they're not physically ready to understand it yet. Another good example of this is a book with a romantic subplot - even without anything sexual, most 8 year olds simply wouldn't get why the characters acted how they did, and wouldn't be interested in it.
  • Content we don't feel is safe for them. The best example of this is a game with a chat feature. We talk to them about how it is dangerous to talk to people online who you don't know, just how it is dangerous to talk to people in person you don't know. Chatting can be harmless, and usually is, but there can be dangerous people who will take advantage of them. We go into some detail here; we want to be the parents of the children who identify and point out the predator, and so we tell them in enough detail that they understand how a predator might act.

The focus here is telling them why in as much detail as possible, so that they not only understand why we are saying "not right now" but also in making sure they are equipped to make that decision for themselves as to whether this is a safe thing or not, when we're not there to oversee (at a friend's house, for example). Children can understand surprisingly difficult concepts, and if you have the conversation in a positive, productive tone, you would be surprised at how they will understand you.

The other thing we do is always play games with them before they can play by themselves - which serves two purposes. One, it makes sure we know if a game is a problem or not; and two, it's a positive experience for them (who, at 8 or so, still are young enough to enjoy playing with Mom and Dad). That way the next time they get a new game, they know what to do - ask us to play it with them!

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Don't make it look like it's your choice.

Most games include age ratings (for example PEGI for video-games), to help the parents choose the appropriate content.

So instead of trying to explain to your kid the reason why you are taking away the game (invite to negotiation), just show the age rating, and explain that is a rule that everyone should follow : she can play with this game when she will have the appropriate age.

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I'm afraid there's no amount of parenting that will make the confiscation of a gift not seem like punishment to an 8 year old. And that is a concern even if you can convince her she's not "in trouble". The perception of being punished for no apparent wrongdoing is bewildering on its own.

Obviously, explain why you're not letting her play that game (I assume you a have already), but to mitigate the feeling of being punished, if you can afford it, I'd consider replacing the game with a safer one. Her being deprived of a game is a negative side effect that will cloud the message you do want to get across. If at all you can avoid that, I would advise it.

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