With summer in full swing, kids have more free time to play outside, surf the web and play video games. While parents know they should talk to their kids about safely surfing the internet, most haven’t discussed the risks of gaming with strangers.
A recent Trend Micro Digital Joneses survey found that 41 percent of homes with kids five and under have internet connected game consoles and that more kids access the internet through game consoles than through a computer, so keeping kids safe while gaming is more important than ever.
Trend Micro has put together a quick tip list to keep kids entertained and safe while gaming online, without being exposed to inappropriate material, getting bullied or targeted for abuse, downloading a virus, or spending an exorbitant amount of money on games.
- Stay Involved - Keeping your gaming console in a common area of your home is a great way for the whole family to enjoy it. Also, it gives parents an idea of how much time their kids are spending using it and what types of games they are playing without having to be invasive. Multi-player games are a fun way to spend time with your kids. Who knows, the game may even be a good way to segue into learning more about your child’s interests.
- Rely on Ratings - The Entertainment Software Rating Board rates games at ESRB.org that can give you a rough idea of the type content it contains.
“E” for Everyone
“T” for Teen
“M” for Mature
These age ratings are good guidelines, but you should preview each game to make sure you agree that it’s appropriate for your child. Another great source of information about games can be found on the Common Sense Media website (commensensemedia.org). There is an informative section called “Reviews & Advice” that in addition to rating games for parents, also rates movies, apps, websites, TV shows, books and music.
- Use Parental Controls - Your gaming console has parental controls so that you can block kids from accessing games that aren’t age-appropriate. You can also set limits on how much time they spend gaming and who they play with. Most gaming devices will also let you pre-approve friend requests to play online and disable Internet access. Be sure to do your homework on the product so you can make use of these controls. They may be your best bet for keeping kids safe while gaming.
- Private Vs. Public Information – Talk to your kid(s) about what’s appropriate information to be publicly shared. Your child should NOT be sharing information like your home address or the name of their school. Similarly, their screen name should NOT reveal their age, gender, or location. Also, be sure they know not to share information about their friends or family when they are online.
- Teach Kids the Right Way to to Deal with Bullies - If your child is being harassed online, be sure he or she knows how to deal with it. Often players can block harassers or report them to the game’s publisher. If you suspect your child is legitimately threatened (by cyberbullies or by online predators), call your local police. Gaming consoles allow players to mute other online players if desired. But this needs to be done manually for each player in the game lobby so it is not a catch-all safety net. This also does nothing to prevent private messages from being sent.
- Set Budgets - Create one budget for online spending and second for screen time. It’s very easy to download gaming apps from the App Store or Google Play, so check your iTunes account or mobile phone bill often to make sure your child isn’t spending too much. Some online gaming stores require accounts outside of Google Play and iTunes. These keep credit card information on file so be sure to create and safeguard the password required to make purchases. If parents allow their children access to this password, they should still convey it’s use within the set online spending budget.
The budget for screen time is basically a schedule with times allocated and choices made in advance, so you can limit your children’s total screen time as well as control what they are viewing and playing. Mental health experts recommend no more than 1 to 2 hours of screen time (TV, video, games) per day and NONE for children under the age of 2.
- Embrace Technology - The same antivirus and antispyware software that keeps you safe elsewhere on the web can make sure your gaming experience is a safe one, too. However, no protection is 100% but an attentive parent or guardian can pretty much fill any security holes in the online gaming community. The best way to approach this is to think of online gaming in the same light as Facebook and other social media outlets. The same advice parents would give their children about social media threats such as cyberbullying, password phishing, and viruses carries over to online gaming.