Ask Maxwell: Great Gift Ideas for a 7-Year-Old Who Only Likes Video Games?

published Aug 11, 2021
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Since you’re so amazing at gifts: can you suggest a gift that will truly delight a 7-year-old who doesn’t like much more than video games?


Dear Don,

Great challenge! Let’s see what we can do.

Before I start I’ll also say, no matter what you think of my response, don’t give up! I have an old friend whose son was addicted to video games, who I thought was lost forever and he’s now in high school, a tremendous musician and a fantastic, well-adjusted citizen of the world. While I don’t know all the details, I do think that his elementary school experience was really engaging, got him deeply into music and opened him up to friendships that took him away from hours of playing video games by himself.

Let’s start with the good things about video games: they are wildly imaginative, allow you to go into another world for hours at a time (which is great when you’re a kid and find the adult world awkward), and you can do them by yourself. You don’t need help.

The bad things are:

1. They are highly processed (like processed foods) and — while imaginative — really don’t let you create for yourself. You are forced to take on the imagination and picture building ability of the game creator. Sure you can go where you want and choose your own avatar, but the world is already fully designed.

2. They require very little willpower or physical will, and simply call on your eyes and your fingers. In this way they don’t allow a child to build a stronger sense of him or herself in the world or to overcome challenges that remain as deep personal victories.

So what do we make of this? First of all it’s good to realize that the super power of the 7-year-old (and most small children) is their imagination. One of the key things they get to do during these years is to grow their imaginative powers and make an impact in the world through doing, making, or shifting things to their will. While video games play on this natural instinct, they really cut them off from fully using their kid powers, which is so important during these years. If you don’t do it when young, it’s hard to catch up later on.

So, we want something that will unlock their imagination, but it has to be tuned to who they are and what sorts of things they like. Boys are usually different than girls in this case and each is different than another, but I would say you could roughly divide up good gifts into these imaginative areas:

A. Imaginative play with costumes, swords, wands, kitchens, bow and arrow, tractors and trucks, forts! cardboard monsters! and/or something pulled from one of your son’s favorite video games. Anything you can do to pull his imagination into the real world and allow him to start creating his own story is awesome.

B. Imaginative art with crayons, paper, paint, etc … This might be a bit of a stretch at first, but drawing worlds and creating worlds on paper with color and line and shapes grows in excitement if the child is a visual learner.

c. Imaginative books! This is really a gift that you give by reading to your son each night. Choose a book that’s imaginative and fantastic in just the way he likes his games and set aside time each night to read it to him. You can do this for YEARS! You can go through dozens and dozens of books together like this and YOU ARE PART OF THE GIFT. Also, his ability to make the images come to life in his head is another gift, as that is a big part of the power of reading.

I hope that all helps and good luck! You’ll have to have boundaries with the video games so he’s unplugged enough of the time to dive into these other pursuits, but it’s worth it.

You have a really fun challenge in front of you and please write back with what you learn (

Best, M

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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