Whether it’s on the computer, gaming console, tablet or phone, online games have become a huge part of kid’s free time fun.
This massive digital playground is home to hugely popular games like Fortnight, boasting an eye watering 350 million players worldwide. Games like Minecraft, Roblox and Rec Room are also popular with kids, letting them explore vast in-game worlds, express creativity through building and battle other players.
Unlike other screen-based activities like watching TV, there’s evidence to suggest that playing video games can increase a child’s IQ as well as encourage them to come up with creative solutions for problems.
However, with over 80% of kids playing games online and more than half admitting to playing with strangers, it’s vital to teach kids online safety so they can enjoy games without the worry of unwanted contact or cyber bullying.
Online gaming risks and solutions
Cyber bullying: Any game that connects your child with other players has a cyber bullying risk. This could take the form of nasty messages over group chat, harassment, threatening or sexist comments, exclusion or ganging up and stealing in-game items.
A startling 1 in 2 online gamers have experienced some form of cyber bullying while playing, making it vital to teach kids what behaviours are and aren’t ok online.
Solution: If your child suddenly stops playing their game and seems quieter and more withdrawn than usual, it could be a sign they are being bullied online.
Encourage them to tell you when someone’s upsetting then and make sure they know how to report and block users who are making them uncomfortable.
Most online games will have a chat function and turning that off also reduces the risk of unwanted contact and cyber bullying.
Online stranger danger: As adults, we know people will lie about who they are online, but kids don’t always have this insight and could fall prey to someone else’s bad intentions.
Kids don’t always think before they speak. These little slip ups are embarrassing at best (has anyone else had a mortifying situation in public when your child loudly asks, “why does that lady have a beard?”) but these slip ups can have serious implications online.
Complete strangers can trick kids into giving information about where they live, what school they go to and whether they’re home alone. Scary stuff.
Solution: This is a good opportunity to have the online stranger danger discussion with your child. Monitor who your child is playing with and aim to limit this to people you and your child know in person.
Make sure kids play games in an area of the house where you can see them and hear what’s going on so you can step in if something doesn’t sound right.
Microtransactions: Many online games are free but make their money by offering in-game purchases like skins and items for your child’s character for a small fee. Roblox has a virtual currency (called Robux) purchased using real world money that players exchange for in-game items.
While some of these items might only be a couple of dollars, kids have been known to rack up bills in the thousands on their parents’ cards, making these often “free” games a massive financial burden if not properly monitored.
Solution: Don’t save any card details on your phone or computer and set up authentication for purchases.
If kids earn their pocket money and want to spend it in-game, this could be a great opportunity to teach them the value of money and how to balance spending and saving.
Malware: Almost every online activity has a cybersecurity risk. Malware, or “malicious software” are programs that can damage and disable any computer system, whether it’s a phone, laptop, computer or tablet.
Malware can be hidden in ads, tucked away in email links or messages and in third party downloads for games, with kids not knowing what they’re installing is actually a virus.
Solution: Kids do make mistakes and can accidentally click on the wrong thing. Installing anti-virus software is essential in giving your family an added layer of protection when it comes to scammers, viruses and malware.
Chatting with kids about what games they enjoy and how they work is a fantastic opportunity to start a discussion about appropriate behaviours online.
Playing games with your child is not only a great way to understand what they’re playing and how it all works, but also gives you some additional bonding time.
To learn more about the different types of online games, statistics and gaming terms and slang, Internet Matters have a fantastic guide for parents with gaming advice guides for different age groups.