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My 7-year old nephew is very interested in pokemon cards. Over the past few months, he has been mentioning a very rare card that he wishes he had. The card is very expensive and I am (secretly) buying it for him as a birthday gift. In general, he does not naturally understand the concept of keeping his cards in good condition: bending or scraping cards does not seem to matter to him, even if the card is valuable.

I am conflicted: the card that I will be gifting him is very valuable, and it would be a shame if he treated it like this other cards. Upon gifting the card to him, should I put some kind of condition (e.g., 'you have to keep it in its plastic sleeve' or 'you have to keep it in your binder'). Or would I unduely make him think about what state his cards are in? Perhaps it is a positive characteristic that he seems oblivious to the damage that cards can incur. (My main worry is that in a few years time, he might naturally become more conscious of that it is nicer to have 'clean' cards rather than damaged ones, and by then it will be too late.)

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  • 37
    You mentioned very valuable and very expensive. Have you considered not giving him this card? Why have you decided against it, may I ask? Apr 26 at 1:06
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    If a detoriating condition does not matter to him, would he mind getting the card in 'used' condition? Maybe he needs it for his deck, or likes the Pokémon on it. Apr 26 at 12:30
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    If you buy it now then just hold on to it yourself; it will probably just get more expensive as time goes on. Gift it to him only when he is ready or buy a screwdown so that he knows it's special. At the end of the day, a gift with strings attached is not a gift. If you try to impart the importance of the item from your point of view then the receiver will never feel like it's truly been gifted to them.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Apr 26 at 14:45
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    how about buying a fake to play, and keep the real card safe in a screwdown?
    – Christian
    Apr 26 at 14:50
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    @knallfrosch you should make that in to an answer. "Good" condition cards typically sell for a small fraction of what "Mint" or "Near Mint" cards go. This would mean the OP isn't giving a 7 year old a valuable object that needs special care. It's both less valuable and requires less effort to keep it in its current condition. This also lessens the other issue which is some other kid (older or not) who is aware of the card's value setting up an exploitative trade.
    – Eric Nolan
    Apr 26 at 15:37

13 Answers 13

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There's a middle ground between requiring the card to be protected, and saying nothing, and that's to inform the child what makes the card special, but then let the child choose what to do with the card.

"This is a rare and valuable card, very special and beautiful. Because it is special, it is in this special card protector to keep it nice. If you always keep it in its protector and are careful with it, it will continue to be a special card that you can enjoy. If I were you I'd want to keep the card nice and special."

Then you let the child choose. It's his card to do with what he wants. I might be a bit difficult to remain so detached over it, but to require he treat it a certain way sends the message that the gift you gave him isn't really his.

If the child starts to worry about the condition of the less valuable cards, there's nothing wrong with that. But you could also use that as a moment to explain that we can choose to treat some things more carefully than others if we wish.

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  • great answer to a great question. how about including some kind of line like explaining the potential value of the card in terms of items that the child understand? (eg it's worth 100 x that ice cream you like)
    – BCLC
    Apr 28 at 3:52
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    @BCLC My father did exactly this when I broke a light fixture through carelessness: "Do you know how much that costs? It's (some amount) dollars" That didn't mean anything to me. He added, "That's 50 candy bars!" That I understood. Apr 28 at 10:39
  • The challenge for this is that a 7 year old fundamentally doesn't understand long term consequences - it's just too hard to grasp that at that age. You can explain that, but they don't have the mental maturity (or development!) to get it.
    – Joe
    Apr 28 at 17:57
  • so why don't you edit your answer to include the candy bars?
    – BCLC
    Apr 29 at 7:22
  • @Joe I disagree. I was way into Pokemon cards when I was seven years old and while I certainly didn't keep all of my cards in perfect condition all the time, I was definitely able to understand that some cards are more valuable than others. I'm certain that I took better care of my 'shinies' than I did my random energy cards. I think sitting down with the kid and explaining to him that it's valuable and he should take care of it will go a long way even at that age. Apr 29 at 8:41
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Buy him a set of sleeves.

Sleeves for trading cards are cheap, and basically every adult who plays trading card games uses them - and when decks for these games can cost hundreds of dollars, they have good reasons for doing so. Just buy him a set of sleeves that he can use for his entire deck, and tell him to use them like the grown-ups do.

Just insisting that he protect this one card won't work, since he'll have to desleeve it to play with it in a game, as all his other cards are unsleeved - and if all his other cards are in the sort of condition you describe, then playing a single pristine card would still be cheating, anyway, since he'd be able to tell which card is the good one by its card back. As a result, if you want him to keep this card in good condition, you'll need to give him enough sleeves for his whole deck.

Fortunately, a set of 100 Pokemon card sleeves from Ultra Pro (a popular brand for card sleeves) has a Recommended Retail Price of $7.49.

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    Could the person who downvoted please explain why, so I can improve my answer? I think that this is a very straight-forward answer to the problem, as someone who's been fairly deep into playing the similar trading card game Magic: the Gathering. Neither of the proposed solutions that the OP suggested were good ones, IMO, so I'm presenting a third one.
    – nick012000
    Apr 26 at 3:46
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    @knallfrosch It doesn't have to come with a requirement that he keeps the particular card nice. It also allows protect (probably all of) his existing cards
    – Caleth
    Apr 26 at 13:17
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    This is brilliant and simple. I wish I had thought of it. Apr 26 at 14:12
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    @knallfrosch: This answer doesn’t conflict with Wayne’s answer, I’d say, but complements it well. Wayne’s answer gives a good way to explain the situation to the kid, and encourage them to take care of the card without enforcing anything too strictly. This answer gives a practical tool that makes caring for the card easier, and less in conflict with the kid’s other motivations.
    – PLL
    Apr 26 at 14:12
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    I will add that if this kid has seen any exposure to games played in any kind of semi professional setting, he would have been exposed to the existance and use of sleeves and would probably be keen to get them himself. If not, find some youtube videos of said professional games and use them as sleeve propaganda for a while.
    – eipi
    Apr 26 at 20:55
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In my experience, most children at age 7 do not really understand the value of things in monetary terms. They generally have not yet had to make their own decisions around earning, managing or spending money. Even if the child understands the mathematics behind the money, they are unlikely to assign more personal value to something because it is more expensive. Rather, the value of the possession will be based entirely on how much enjoyment they get from it.

It follows, therefore, that most children do not think too much of superficial damage to their toys and possessions - your nephew is perfectly normal in this regard. He may be upset if a card is ripped in half, for example, but as you say, bending or scraping them isn't something he minds. Their upbringing also plays a factor in how much they have been taught to look after their things, but ultimately it might also come down to personality (you undoubtedly know adults who aren't precious about material possessions, and that's just the way they are).

I think it's somewhat pointless, therefore, to try to enforce rules upon the enjoyment of the card, based on your adult view that the card is valuable and enjoyable because it cost more to buy.

If you give him this card, you have to let it go. Let him decide how to treat it. You could (and probably should) advise that it's extra special and should be treated with care, but after that you're gifting it to him. If he is given the respect to manage it himself, he will probably learn quicker as he grows up, the value in looking after things.


A practical solution might be to laminate the card itself. That way he doesn't need to literally keep it in a binder at all times, but can play with it like the other cards. I don't know if that's feasible, or a suitable option for Pokemon cards specifically, but I don't think you should dictate that he keeps the card somewhere where he can't actually touch it (because as we have discussed, his enjoyment of the cards comes from physically handling them).

Edit: I was suggesting lamination under the assumption you can later carefully cut off and remove the laminate without damaging the card within if you need to, but a quick search suggests the process could be quite difficult and/or damaging to the card, so perhaps that is unwise with an expensive card.

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    "A practical solution might be to laminate the card itself." That would be cheating unless all the cards in his deck were laminated. It'd be a marked card.
    – nick012000
    Apr 26 at 11:04
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    And it would probably also affect (destroy) the collector’s value - a sleeve is fine, something as permanent as laminating isn’t.
    – Stephie
    Apr 26 at 12:20
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    @nick012000 Yes, I wasn't sure how the Pokemon card game is played by OP's nephew, whether the marked card would be an issue or not (e.g. if they just like to collect the cards and share with friends).
    – BadHorsie
    Apr 26 at 13:20
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    You could definitely make a few color copies of the card, cut them to size, and give those to him to look at and mess with. Then put the valuable card in a sleeve and decide seperately where on the continuum you fall between having his parents put it in a safe deposit box, to not worrying if he eats cheez doodles while handling it outside its sleeve.
    – user117529
    Apr 28 at 3:04
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    @user117529 doing something along that line with expensive cards that are kept in more protective cases is considered using a "proxy," and as long as the original is owned by the player and the proxy wouldn't be "marked," it's legal for most CCG tournament play. Good thinking!
    – Allison C
    May 3 at 18:29
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mentioning a very rare card that he wishes he had

doesn't automatically translate into hoping you would get it for him, let alone it being likely that he will be glad he received it if you do get it for him.

Sometimes it's just nice to dream about an idealized unattainable item. I wish I had a pet elephant, but if you got me one I'd soon be furious at the maintenance responsibilities you'd lumped me with. What's more, the allure of those rare cards kind of dissipates if you can obtain one just by mentioning that you'd like one. Their market value is premised on them being harder to get hold of than that.

So I'm not going to tell you not to get the card, but if you do you need to decide what you expect his response to be.

  • If he intrinsically values the card for its financial worth (and you haven't ruled out this being why he wants it) then you probably don't have to do much to persuade him to care for the card, beyond helping him understand what would make the card fetch less in the future.
  • If he doesn't, then what he imagines he wishes to have the card for may be impossible without degrading its value, so you then have to decide whether
    1. he has to accept that the gift is not really his possession to do with as he pleases but an investment gifted to him in trust, that maybe he comes to appreciate when he gets to sell it on
    2. he gets to fulfil his wish to have that card and enjoy it at his leisure, and learn for himself as he gets older what an expensive plaything he had enjoyed, which, depending on how accustomed to other high expenditures on his behalf he is, he may either take for granted or come to resent that you didn't make a more durable investment in his name instead - or spread the cost across a larger number of less expensive gifts.
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I think you are setting yourself up for disappointment by giving him the card. It's very likely that your nephew will love the card, but like my kid, he will love the card to death. It's also likely that in a few months, he'll move on to some other obsession, like 7-year olds have a tendency to do.

I also think that buying a rare and expensive thing for your nephew imposes a big burden on the parents to keep the card pristine. They'll do this to keep you happy, even if you insist that you don't care. If someone gave my kid a gift like that, I would want to lock it away somewhere until my kid could be responsible with it (by which time, the kid probably wouldn't care about it anymore). I'd hate to have to explain that the rare, expensive thing someone gave my kid was trashed within 20 minutes.

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He's only seven years old and really doesn't have the maturity to understand why one of the cards he plays with should be kept in a box (seriously, at seven, you want to play with your toys, not just look at them).

He's may have heard about this card on the school grapevine and that's why he mentions it - one of his little buddies may have been bragging about having one (and he probably doesn't).

Would he be happier if instead of buying this one card, you took the money and bought as many new packets of cards as that would afford so that he could open/sort/play with them? Seems likely to me...

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I'd like to bring some specific experience here: I'm a Pokémon league organizer for a league of 7-8 year olds (pre-pandemic, and hopefully again post!), and a parent of two children who collect, and play, Pokémon cards.

The answer here depends greatly on the child. The most common thing a child would do with Pokémon cards, of any value or type, is to bring them into school or to the playground, and show them to their friends. They're cool things, they know they have some inherent value, and have cool moves and such. Maybe they play some sort of game with them - usually not by any real set of rules - but mostly it's just showing off, and maybe trading.

Very few children at 7, but not zero, are aware of the larger environment - the industry around the cards, from tournaments with significant prizing, Twitch/Youtube streamers, and the like, to the collector scene with real, generally increasing value in rare cards.

The question is, then, what the child wants this card for. If he's one of the rare 7 year olds truly aware of the scene and aware of the value of cards, then it's probably fine to give him the expensive card with a warning to keep it safe, and probably give him a proper case (like a screwdown), or even get it graded (maybe give it to him, with an offer to get it graded). He'll appreciate it!

But if he's one who prefers to take it to the playground, as most will at that age, I would be assume it will be gone. Most likely not just damaged - odds are someone will take it from him at some point, or he'll trade it, or lose it. If he's showing off a card everyone knows is valuable (which is the point, right, or why show it off?), say a Shiny Charizard VMax or something similar, then there's a good chance no matter what you do with it, it will be lost or stolen - a screwdown won't help there. Either don't give it to him, or be okay with this - if he wants it because it means he can show it off, it's silly to give it to him and tell him he can't.

Finally, there are a few kids in the middle. I'd put my eight year old there. He likes cards, and does have some valuable ones he's lucked into. For the truly valuable ones, I do one of two things: I either directly pay him for them, which often he's happy to have the value, and then I add them to my collection; or I put them in a binder for him, but not one he shows to other people. He knows he has the card - but he doesn't care too much about showing it off. That's the middle ground, and if you do have a kid in this area, it is worth it to consider giving him some help keeping it safe - it's too hard for a kid at that age to have sufficient impulse control, and frankly organizational skills, to really keep something safe, but you can add some help there. Maybe put it in a case and mount it on the wall.

In my experience, though, most kids are in the playground group. Do find out what he wants it for, though; then you can identify the best solution for him, specifically.

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I assume the card isn’t that expensive that the loss in monetary value hurts you. What you weigh up is his pleasure in receiving the card, and your displeasure if it gets destroyed because he is careless. So if you feel it would particularly annoy you, then don’t buy it.

Instead of one quite expensive card I’d go and buy ten slightly rare cards for the same money, and protectors to keep them safe. So if he destroys one, he still has nine left. And if he destroys one, that’s an opportunity to teach him to look after things, because it’s not too late. (If that card is $20, then you will get 10 quite collectible cards for $2 each).

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My suggestion is to get the card professionally graded. If you send the card to a service like PSA or Beckett they will confirm the card's authenticity and give it a grade to show exactly how good of a condition it's in, and also encapsulate the card in a special tamper proof case with a label showing the grade the card received. The case will protect the card, so you can give it to your nephew without worrying about spoiling the card's condition. It should also be a nice presentation method for a birthday present. If the card is rare and valuable as you say, then grading it professionally is generally a must for collectors, to affirm the authenticity and make the quality evident.

Example of the encapsulation:

enter image description here

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    PSA is currently not accepting new submissions for grading, and grading takes a long time unless you pay a lot for expedited service. But since the OP is buying the card anyways they could look to buy one that's already graded.
    – IceGlasses
    Apr 27 at 18:43
  • Yes… or having first tested this on a worthless card, put the good one in a protective sleeve then laminate the pair. Apr 28 at 21:27
2

Why not just ask him?

What I mean is, you've mentioned how there's this really rare card he wants and wishes he had, so why not just talk to him about it by asking why he wants it so bad so that you could lead into the conversation of asking him more specifically, what would he do if he had it? Let him share with you his excitement for this card and then just give him a chance to speak about how he would treat the card on his own so that you're not leading. Primarily because, by seeing how he naturally feels about it, you might be surprised to discover him say something along the lines of, "I would treasure it and keep it safe in my ______ and make sure not to lose it" (again, just to convey the idea, I don't think a 7-year old would use the word "treasure" lol) or something like that and it should hekp segue the topic of keeping and preserving nice things or at least make it a little easier. Alternatively, if he answers something broad like, "If I had it I would be soooo happy, I would show all my friends and make them jealous..." which would help give you insight into where his mentality is in wanting this rare card. You will be able to be a better parental figure as an aunt in teaching him core principles and values if you first take time to understand where he's at now.

To buy him something without understanding his motives might lead to fostering a belief that if he really wants something, someone will get it for him without any effort or expected behavior from him. And, that's not what you want if your goal is to teach him the value of keeping nice things...well, nice. Especially when it's more or less a translation of hard work and earning things. I mean that in the sense that you worked hard to make the money to buy him this gift, but to translate that to him at his age would be extremely difficult and may lead to unrealistic expectations of his behavior. As an aunt, you may want to spoil nieces and nephews sometimes just to see the joy it can bring to their world, but it's one thing to wish them joy in the short term as a young child than to wish them happiness for a lifetime and that takes helping him to develop core principles. Albeit you're not his parent per se, but the impact you will have on his life could be paramount years down the road. If it helps, just imagine decades later he says to you something like, "You know auntie, I'll never forget what you taught me when you made that deal with me for the pokemon card I really wanted and I'll never forget what you taught me and that's why [input act of great recognition or charitable deed here] and it's all because of you"

best of luck!

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What you're wanting to give this child sits at a curious intersection between collectable items (focus on value/condition) and items with practical use (focus on utility). Cards of any sort are not very durable, and it is extremely difficult to use them without damaging their condition and thus lowering their value. I don't know this child, but I can't imagine a 7-year old that's able to care for something like a rare trading card while simultaneously using it. I can't even do that as an adult. Expect the gift to get used like any other card, get damaged, and to lose most of its value rather quickly.

These cards are also traded fairly often. 7-year-olds don't typically have a good conceptual grasp on the value of money, so they could very well take this nice expensive gift and trade it away. How would you feel if you gave your nephew a $50 bill, and he turned around and traded it to a friend for a $5 bill that had a funny picture drawn on it? That's more or less what could happen with this gift.

Back in the early days of the Magic: The Gathering card game, my cousin (around age 12) pulled a Black Lotus card out of a pack. This card was extremely rare at the time. One of the experienced players at the card shop let his parents know what he had, and gave them some advice that worked really well. My cousin liked to play the game (not just collect them). He traded the card to the card shop in exchange for an old, beat-up Black Lotus card that didn't have much collector value, plus an entire box full of card packs. This gave him all the thrill of using such a powerful card while playing the game without worrying about ruining the card's value. Plus it was a lot of fun getting to open a pack of cards every day for the next couple of months.

I recommend trying something like this with your nephew. Find a version of the card that has little to no collector's value so that when the inevitable happens, the loss is minimal. It's still just as much fun when you nonchalantly pull it out of your deck and surprise your opponent during a game.

If your nephew is purely a collector and doesn't play the game, then get him a collector-quality card but put it in a protective case that's bolted to something like a wall-mounted plaque. The card would still be on display and easy to show to friends, but it's too bulky and awkward to take it places, lose it, trade it, have it stolen, etc. Don't go this route if he wants to use the card, though. You'll be paying a lot more money simply for its condition, which isn't what he cares about and will very quickly deteriorate.

0

Try teaching by example

Come up with a story, maybe a co-worker was selling their collection, maybe you found a cheap collection online, so you got it and thought the child might like it. Then place the card in a sleeve or whatever protective packaging you wish, amongst some other, damaged cards, it doesn't have to be many. This shows the child the way in which others would treat the card, due to how they value it. It doesn't rely on an understanding of the monetary value of the card, as the value is shown in the extra care used in protecting it, and the effort put in, which they should be able to understand.

Maybe they won't care and will just take it out of everything and treat it like the rest of their collection, but the chances are, they will treat it better.

0

Most children learn a lot of things through contextual inference. Based on how you approach it, the child will perceive that sleeve differently. Notice the difference between presentations:

  • You better use a sleeve so you don't damage this rare card.
  • Can you please use a sleeve? I don't want you to damage this card, it's rare.

Both of these are appeals to rationality, which are not a child's strong points. It's how you speak to an adult.

  • Because this is a rare card, it's got this awesome sleeve as well!

This presents the sleeve as an additional benefit, rather than a chore to avoid negative outcomes. Make sure you sell that point, a lot of children pick up on disingenuity.

It also rides the "awesome train" for maximum effect. At that moment in time, that card is awesome. It's shiny, it's better than he's had before, it's a gift, ... and during that time, giving the sleeve equal awesomeness will mentally attach the card and the sleeve to each other.

I still do this to myself as an adult. I'm prone to preferring my smartphone without a case because I like it being slim, but I've dropped enough phones to know better. So I make sure to accessorize my phone around the same time I get the phone, i.e. at the time where the phone is really awesome to me.

Also, if this is a transparent sleeve, I'd suggest giving the card while already in the sleeve, so they're not as used to handling the card without the sleeve. My phone example applies again: if I've never used the phone without a case, I'm less likely to see the case as an additional hindrance.


That being said, you cannot guarantee that the child will pick up this inference. Maybe they don't even register it. Maybe they do, but eventually they forget or think better of it and take the card out of the sleeve.

This means the child will naturally bring itself to the "learning the hard way" stage of learning, where they'll probably damage the card before understanding the importance of keeping your valuables safe. And that's okay, I suspect a vast majority of humans have had to learn that lesson the hard way.

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