"Girl Games" have got to go...
November 3, 2014 9:03 AM   Subscribe

My 5 year old daughter has "screen time" when I come home from work while I'm making dinner. She used to watch sesame street or other recorded pbs shows, but isn't interested in that anymore. I provided her with some ask metafilter sourced web game options, but now she likes to play a ton of "girl games" on shady websites that involve things ranging from facepainting to baby care to dental work and plastic surgery, ick. Help me decide what to do about it.

The other day, she was being quiet in the bathroom, and I interrupted her trying to shave her arm with a razor, yikes. Razors have been moved (further) out of reach and I think she won't do that again, but now I feel I need to address the games she is playing in some additional way. I've already talked to her about it and explained why some of the games bother me.

1. I could ban internet games completely - I also have an ipod with a bunch of apps that she likes to play, and she's welcome to that, but she prefers the internet ones if given the choice. She now says she wants to be a doctor partially due to some of these games.
2. I could get something more fun, like a gaming system (which we don't have).
3. Other ideas?

I'm interested in suggestions or opinions. I'm leaning towards banning, with either ipod + more apps or maybe a wii or something.
posted by mgogol to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever solution you come up with should involve you controlling access to the games she plays. That could be via apps, a gaming system, or just blocking most sites, but 5 is kind of young to be getting unregulated internet access.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:07 AM on November 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: It's not completely unregulated, just fyi. But I guess I could switch to an approach where everything starts as suspect and only allow approved sites.
posted by mgogol at 9:11 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would she (or you) be ok with her being diverted to other games?

This may be treating crack with heroin, but Minecraft? She's about the right age to get addicted completely hooked. There are versions for the iPod.

If these are internet games, you should be able to use the "parental controls" or "access control" on your home router to limit where she visits.
posted by bonehead at 9:14 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are so many games without needing access to the Internet. Minecraft is a good idea. I believe there are pet beauty shop games that might be more age appropriate.

(My 6 year old likes to watch Shakira videos so maybe you shouldn't listen to me)
posted by k8t at 9:16 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Apps only, or a web browser that is only allowed to connect to websites you pre-approve. We use basically both these approaches with our five-year-old and while he's allowed to do a few things online, we keep his access locked down HARD and it tells him no when he tries to leave the sandbox we have designated as safe. I flip through the history on any device he uses (iPad for games, family computer for school website access) and make sure he hasn't found a way to circumvent my restrictions. If I found out he was, and I couldn't figure out how to shut it down, I'd have no hesitation in taking away his computer access until I figured out how to restrict that.

He doesn't consider it a hardship -- he usually comes and gets me because he clicked something wrong on accident and isn't sure how to back out, or else he wants to try a new game and it told him "no" and so he comes and gets me to ask if it's game he can try or not.

Where is she finding these "girl games"? Clicking on ads in other games?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:16 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you considered a handheld device like a Nintendo 3DS? I (grown woman) got one some time ago, and the titles I've played so far (Mario franchise, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, assorted cheapo five-dollar bin at Best Buy games) have been family-friendly and mostly gender-neutral. As a toy, it's similar in shape/size to mom and dad's internet device, but is obviously geared toward kids. There are internet capabilities, but I've found them to be heavily moderated. Plus, it'll be hers, which I recall being a pretty important factor in my most prized possessions at that age.
posted by theraflu at 9:17 AM on November 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

Yeah, it's unclear if she's navigating to these sites (which she should absolutely NOT be doing), if you're just kind going somewhere and letting her pick random games and she goes down a rabbit hole. Either way, it needs to be emphasized to her that she doesn't go to any new websites without you.

That said, pbskids.org has a ton of kid-friendly games. As does leapfrog in app form.
posted by zizzle at 9:18 AM on November 3, 2014

Response by poster: "Where is she finding these "girl games"? Clicking on ads in other games?"

YUP. If I watch her, she now uses her browser history mainly to get to the ones she played before. I think originally she probably got there by clicking various ads.

I have considered a DS, thanks for that reminder. I got the minecraft app for my ipod, and she plays it, but isn't that into it.
posted by mgogol at 9:21 AM on November 3, 2014

Best answer: My kids like this kind of game, too, so I've tried to direct them to versions that I find less objectionable. (No plastic surgery, ads for other sites, horribly misproportioned "dolls", etc.)

On the ipad, they enjoy: Toca Hair Salon & others by Toca Boca (Toca Tailor, pet doctor, Toca Town) and some of the Dr. Panda games (daycare, beauty salon for animals, hospital, restaurant).
posted by belladonna at 9:22 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Disclaimer: not a parent, but I have lots of self-professed gamer parent friends.

I would switch to non-browser based games. The Nintendo DS and Wii both have lots of good kid-appealing options that don't hammer in gender stereotypes. The DS has the added bonus of being a good time-waster on long trips and other places where she needs to be kept occupied. If you want to keep using the computer, services like Steam allow you to purchase and download games, often for cheap, and then play them in a non-browser client. Any of these options would also allow you to choose games that you could sometimes play together, which I think is especially valuable.

Any way you go, though, I'd be serious about examining a game before she is allowed to have access to it. Letting her navigate in a browser, alone, is probably too much for a five-year-old, even if you have parent filters on.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 9:24 AM on November 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

There are similar, less shady games that are actually computer apps (so no internet access necessary) and that are rated for age appropriateness. I used to have some like this way back when. Maybe buy one or two of those and severely limit internet access.
posted by hejrat at 9:29 AM on November 3, 2014

Yes, go for computer apps as opposed to browser games.

My son went through a "Girl Games" phase (directed there by his cousin), and ugh. I feel your pain.

He was into Minecraft for a long while, but--largely because my niece also loves these--he's more focused on Roblox and Terraria.

I despise the ads on most browser-based games.
posted by whoiam at 9:44 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking the rule is that the computer cannot be used in the child's room. Our sons use the laptop or tablet in the kitchen or the tv room, and we keep careful tabs on what they are consuming.

Google Search and YouTube Search both are locked down as well in terms of what they can search for. While we are lucky enough not to have this sort of issue, for our younger son (5) I would have no hesitation about blocking domains or websites with this content, and the block would remain until the child would be old enough to control their own behaviour somewhat.

With our older son (12) we have expectations about what he will do and will not do online, and have explained these expectations to him. We then trust that he will live up to our expectations.
posted by Nevin at 9:51 AM on November 3, 2014

Another browser option is to use something like Ad Block. That won't stop her from getting to sites she's already visited, but it will keep her from getting to (most) new sites. It will occasionally stop some games from loading based on how they're set up, but she can live with that.

Another handheld option that might be cheaper: My 5 year old niece had a simple hand-held device, Barbie-themed maybe?, with educational games. She was perfectly happy with that. It was hers and she even called it her "DS". (My older nephew had an actual DS). The niece is admittedly not wildly interested in electronic things in general, but it might work for you.
posted by sevenless at 9:57 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was a kid, my parents filtered out junk media just on the basis of "that's junk". Usually they gave me an alternative that scratched a similar itch (for instance I got lots of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne Of Green Gables, Little Women, etc. in lieu of barbie/fashion/princess stuff). I'm sure this works just as well for video games.

If she's navigating to sites you don't like, you could always clear the history on the regular, or if it really came down to it, block the offending sites.
posted by Sara C. at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. This was really helpful.
posted by mgogol at 9:59 AM on November 3, 2014

> I think originally she probably got there by clicking various ads

That's a good argument for taking the Internet away from her. She's too young to even be seeing ads, even if she's not clicking on them.

If you get a DS, I can recommend Nintendogs. My daughter loves it.

If you get an X Box, Kinectimals: Now with BEARS! is about the cutest thing ever oh my god you can scritch them!
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:22 AM on November 3, 2014

My daughter does this. In fact I just picked her up the other day while she was playing some sort of veterinary nose surgeon and removing polyps from dog's noses.

She's probably going to sites like "gogirlsgames" and other such - the URLs are super easy to find because they are designed for children to find them.

I think there are two different questions being asked here. The first "how do I control access to websites at home" is pretty easy. But as she gets older and starts going to school, that's not going to be so easy anymore. Her friends also will have smartphones and tablets and such, and she will play them on her friend's device if she can't do it at home. Trust me, I have fought (and lost) this battle.

The second question seems really, "How do I deal with my kid being into stuff I'm vaguely squicked/morally disapprove of?" And that's a much harder one. Children in particular - actually of all genders, despite the 'girls games' moniker - are drawn to nurturing games. If your problem is with the specific content, you can divert through Nintendo DS and some of the pet-games. But you need to satisfy that desire through (somewhat) healthy ways - it is impossible to dam.
posted by corb at 10:26 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

My five year old (boy) recently tired of PBS, so we introduced Disney Jr, via the iPad app. Doc McStuffins has been a big hit.
posted by xo at 11:17 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your daughter is also not too young to start giving her positive straight talk about her body, and explain WHY you're uncomfortable with those games: that some people try to make girls feel bad about their bodies so they can sell things to "fix" it even when there is nothing wrong. That she is absolutely wonderful the way she is, and there is nothing wrong with the way she looks. That fashion and makeup can be fun hobbies, and there's nothing wrong with liking girl things, but they should never be more important than being smart and kind, working hard, and being a good person. Seriously, just tell her these things outright. Don't rely on subtext.

I've apparently done this so much that my 8-year-old started giving me the talk about being proud of my booty just the way it is when I only mentioned I was going to the gym the other day!
posted by Andrhia at 11:25 AM on November 3, 2014 [24 favorites]

I'm nthing the Nintendo DS. It doesn't have to be the newest, most boss model (but new things are nice, especially for Christmas...), and you can get older ones for probably $50. Note incompatability issues between DS and 3DS, just so you don't buy games for the wrong system. I think the ownership aspect is HUGE for a kid that age, and there are tons of cool games for that age. I mean, Pokemon is probably just around the corner, age-wise. But nice thing is Nintendo is very careful about their age ratings.

(I mean. As a data point, I had unrestricted access to the internet as a 6 year old. I mostly just made websites about horses, and maybe got into some sketchy stuff, but I had the safety talk and I survived. I'm glad for the unrestricted access and freedom I had to learn about everything, but I was, and am, a nerd like that. You know your kid, you know what they might get up to.)
posted by aggyface at 1:15 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Toca Boca are great games - there are a variety of them and they're my five year old's favourites. She also loves the Play School app (from ABC in Australia) because you can make little 30 second movies talking into the ipad and moving the characters around the screen.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:43 PM on November 3, 2014

Make sure your browser has AdBlock and NoScript (Chrome equivalent is ScriptBlock), and make sure you clear your daughter's browser history, so that she can't get to these sites.

If you're using the Firefox browser, you may also want to consider installing FoxFilter.
posted by starbreaker at 1:45 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend has a five and a seven year old, and they play their games on the iPad and the Xbox. They ask before getting a new game, and she looks at it a bit before they are allowed to actually play it. If it doesn't meet her approval, it either never gets downloaded or else gets deleted after.

She also sometimes changes her mind about what games are allowable (for instance if all they're playing are fightng games, then some or all of those games might get removed) and the kids don't seem to particularly mind when this happens.

They play a lot of Minecraft, Skylanders, and math/reading games. (Educational games are SO MUCH BETTER than they were back in my day.) They seem pretty happy with their options, though to be honest they usually prefer to play with their legos (which are actually my old legos from when I was a kid) or ride their bikes, or draw. Which is probably as it should be. Everybody is happy, so the system seems to work.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:07 PM on November 3, 2014

Maybe just get her The Sims? It's not marketed as a "girl game" but it's very popular with girls and women.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:42 PM on November 3, 2014

Response by poster: I definitely will continue to tell her why these images of women and plastic surgery games bother me in plain english. But talking will only go so far, you know? At some point, you've got to just shield them if you can. At least until they grow up a little and develop their own wariness about it or can read The Beauty Myth.
posted by mgogol at 10:58 AM on November 5, 2014

Has she encountered any of the female gamer let's plays on youtube? I think some one like Aureylian (Channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/Aureylian) might be someone your little girl might like. She's a new mom herself and very sensitive to kids' issues on her content.

She plays a number of games, including things like minecraft and the sims. You might want to vet a couple of her vids first, but she might prove a positive example for your little girl. Let's plays can be powerful magnets for kids, so beware.
posted by bonehead at 12:56 PM on November 6, 2014

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