Smiling like Sunshine: A Parent's Guide to Safe Online Gaming

Monday, 23 September 2013

A Parent's Guide to Safe Online Gaming

Children using computers.

Online gaming can offer a fun, social and even educational experience for people of all ages. Kids and teenagers can use online gaming to connect with their friends and relax after a tough day at school, but just like every other area of the Internet, there are risks that kids and parents should be aware of before they start playing.

Learning about these risks and knowing how to handle certain situations can be essential in minimising the dangers, and
allowing your child to enjoy the web with a safe online game. Here are a few tips to bear in mind before letting the kids loose on the console or PC.
Know what your kids are playing
Most games available for purchase or download have age-ratings, indicating the level of violence and other inappropriate material, but the best person to judge the suitability of a game is the parent. Take an interest in what games your kids enjoy, or even join in and play along with them.
Use parental controls
Some games allow you to restrict certain features, denying access to age-inappropriate material and filtering unsuitable content. You can also block online access completely, or limit the amount of time your kids spend playing.
Keep personal details personal
It's important that children know the basic rules of online privacy. Stress the importance of never, under any circumstances, giving out their full name, address or phone number to people they meet playing online games.
Be careful with voice chat
Chatting whilst playing can add extra fun to a game, but most voice chat is completely unfiltered and may expose young people to offensive content. Only allow your kids to use voice chat if you know who they're talking to.
Don't ignore bullying
If your children encounter bullying or abusive behaviour whilst playing an online game, it's important to follow the game's reporting guidelines and make a complaint about the abusive player. Most games also have an option for blocking individual players.
Be aware of "freemium" content
Some games for mobiles and tablets are free to play, but supported by premium content that can be bought in just a few steps. Ensure your mobile or tablet is kept secure, and your PIN is kept secret, to avoid unexpected costs.
Keeping children safe whilst playing online games uses many of the same rules that apply to other areas of the Internet. Never download software from untrusted sources, use a strong password, and keep the computer in a communal area where parents can keep an eye on what is going on.

Many of these rules are common sense, but the biggest key to safe online gaming is communication. Children should be encouraged to tell you if they come across anything that is troubling or inappropriate, and you should take an active interest in the games your kids play online.
Image by San Jose Library, used under Creative Comms license

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