Should parents buy a Nintendo DS for a 9-year-old?

August 22, 2011

QPlease help my husband and me decide on a present for our daughter’s ninth birthday, which is only a few weeks away.

She is a strong and enthusiastic reader, a good student, a dancer and a soccer player, but she recently told me that she wants only a Nintendo DS for her birthday. This surprised us. Our daughter isn’t a greedy or consumeristic child, and she has never asked us for anything like this before, so I really had to think about it.

Although her father is staunchly opposed to this gaming console, I do feel for her. This year she told me — in confidence — that, unlike most of the girls in her group, she doesn’t know anything about “iCarly” and “Hannah Montana” and that this sometimes makes her feel out of place.

Perhaps this is because we limit the computer time for our daughter and her younger brother and we let them watch TV for less than an hour a day. We just think that most of the shows aren’t good for a child’s mind and that our children should be entertaining themselves instead of sitting around.

Although I won’t bend on the TV issue, I do think that my daughter is old enough to play the same games that her friends enjoy — and I know that they do enjoy them. I’m the Girl Scout troop leader, and I hear their chatter every week.


Buying your child a handheld video game consel might be a way of helping her climb over a social hurdle. (Hadley Hooper/For The Washington Post)

I also think that some of the Nintendo games — such as the puzzle-based ones — would be appropriate for my daughter and that they would challenge her mind, too. And, of course, we would still limit her total screen time and make her earn her DS time as well.

What do you think? Am I caving in to the whims of a 9-year-old? Or is my husband being too rigid?

ANo, you’re not caving in; you’re just being thoughtful and even wise.

Parents should deal with the whole child, rather than focus on her mind or her body or her psyche. And if that child is 9 — or 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 or even 16 — they should remember that children want to look and act just like their friends, especially when they’re between the fourth and ninth grades.

As much as your daughter loves you, loves books, loves dance and loves sports, her friends are deeply important to her now, and if she thinks that she doesn’t fit in with them, she might become quite uncertain about herself.

This could have unfortunate ramifications. The child who feels insecure in third or fourth grade is often the one who gets bullied in fifth grade or gets into the wrong crowd in junior high. If you compromise a little, however, your child will realize that her opinions really matter to you, and this in turn will make her more willing to see the world from your perspective.

You should, of course, respect your husband if he adamantly doesn’t want to give your daughter this present, just as he should respect your views on other matters when they are stronger than his. He might come around, though, if your daughter tells him that the lack of a Nintendo makes her feel out of place with her friends. He’ll then know that he is helping her climb over a social hurdle and not giving into a whim.

If you both agree to give this console to your daughter, you should continue to limit her screen time and see to it that she watches age-appropriate shows on TV, but don’t make her earn her DS minutes. The playtime you give your children is your gift to them, and you shouldn’t attach strings to any gift.

You also should learn to play Nintendo games with your daughter, just as you play Parcheesi or work on a puzzle with her. These moments might seem insignificant to you, but they matter to her now — and they always will.

Your daughter might get tired of her Nintendo games pretty quickly, but they will make her feel technically proficient. You can then ask her to teach you how to work your new cellphone, download your new apps and defragment your old computer. Each skill your daughter acquires will make her want to learn more.

Nothing, though, will kill her love for reading, for once a child is bitten by that bug, she is hooked for life. You can satisfy her need to read by giving her a subscription to the excellent bimonthly, ad-free New Moon Girls magazine, which even has a safe, supervised chat room. To order, send $34.95 to P.O. Box 161287, Duluth, Minn. 55816.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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