Online Gaming Safety Tips
Help your kids have a fun, safe time while gaming
We are fast approaching the holidays which means that new video games are going to be under the tree. We can’t just blindly give our kids gaming computers, consoles, and whatever game they want without first knowing what we are bringing into our homes.
Our 8-Bit Roots
Video games have come a long way since we were kids. My first gaming system was an old paddle Pong system that my parents had. Then we upgraded to the Atri 2600. Eventually, we got a Sega, then a PlayStation 2.
My dad and I played tons of games together I can say it really helped our relationship and created bonding experiences. So gaming is more than just gaming and later you’ll see how why I support family gaming, especially for young kids.
The Problem: It’s Not In The Game
So first, let’s gain a deeper understanding of most of the problems that parents have with video games and that’s really other people. I was very hesitant to let my son play Minecraft.
But when I search for things like if Minecraft is safe for kids, I found tons of articles about freak things that had gone wrong or hyped articles about small, unique issues. But all of this information I researched pointed back to one thing, how people treated each other.
So an important lesson that we need to teach our kids is that our gaming friends are not really our friends. Many games want you to connect with other players to make your experience better and when you decide to add someone to your contact list, they call that person a “friend”.
Until the internet, friends were always people that you knew in person. You could talk to them, read their nonverbal behavior, and see their responses to the world to gain a better understanding of who they were.
Now the gaming friend is taking over that spot in our kid's minds and they mentally start to think of online friends like we do real friends. So we must make the distinction that online friends are not real friends and we don’t know who they really are.
Someone could be a kid the same age as ours, or it could be a 40-year-old. Our kids need to know that not everyone who plays the game is their age and shares their beliefs. We just don’t know so we have to tell our kids to keep a safe distance and while it may be fine to join up with a person to play a game online, that does not mean they earn real friendship status and access to us.
My suggestion is that you need to set up a system with your children that they must ask permission to add an online friend in a game. This way you can approve or monitor that person and how they interact with your child. And you as the parent have the authority to remove that friend from their game if you say so.
You are the parent. Just because it’s a video game and you don’t know how to play it doesn’t mean that your authority as a parent is stifled.
You can have online friends in a game and never communicate with them. Most games today have a text chat or voice chat feature. This is when things can go sideways.
If your kids are small, text and voice chat should be off-limits in your home. Personally, I’m not sure if I’m ever going to allow it in my home. I don’t even use it when I play because things can get nasty quickly and my gaming experience can be ruined because of a toxic person who can’t deal with their emotions. A lot of feelings can get hurt and if you have a child that’s sensitive to that, it can be devastating.
Red Flags for Gaming Chat
Another reason to restrict or ban communication with other players is that’s how grooming can start. Earlier this year, I referenced a news story on how a Georgia man drove out to Kansas after grooming a young girl on Roblox.
While this was a terrible situation, many people thought Roblox was the issue, but it’s not. The issue is that a groomer got access to a child, the method of how that was done isn’t the headline, it’s the act itself. Grooming happens online every day and that includes video games.
Matt Murphy, the CEO of Operation Lightshine made a post on Instagram about this and I wanted to share it with you. Matt said of groomers,
“I don’t need to kidnap your kid. I just need to send them hearts on their latest TikTok dance done in their underwear or the latest Fortnite character skins to build a rapport and start the grooming process.” - Matt Murphy, Operation Lightshine
We’ll go back to episode 205 again and remind you that acts of praise and gift-giving can be red flags for grooming behavior. So please consider limiting the communication your kids have with people on video games and online in general.
Understanding Game Ratings
We’ll move on from the human aspect of gaming to talk more about the games themselves. It used to be that games only existed in the electronics section of your local Walmart so parents had to take their kids to get a game. Now, most games are downloaded right from home and that can be an issue for parents.
You need to know the games your kids are playing and they need to ask permission from you to get a new game. If you don’t know what the game is that your kids want, then first go to YouTube with your kid and tell them to find videos of that game to show you why they like it.
This will give you a better feel for what the game is and why your kid wants to play it. If there’s some hesitation there, you’re going to want to dig into why they don’t want you to see the game.
Also, you have two good online resources at your disposal. Full-release games are rated by the ESRB. Their website has a great explanation of their official rating system. They even have a Tools for Parents section. Plus, there's an ESRB rating app where you can search titles and see how they earned that rating, which is pretty cool.
Another resource is Common Sense Media. They review video games, movies, books, podcasts, apps - you name it. They have their own system separate from ESRB that can give you a bit more details about the title. I do suggest you fully read the review and not just glance at the rating. You want to make sure the title is in line with the values of your home.
Lastly, I want to encourage you to play games with your kid. Let the whole family in on the fun, even if you’re terrible at it. It’ll be funny! I never thought in my entire life that my wife and I would play Minecraft with our son, but it was such a good time. It builds understanding and gives you insight into how your kid responds to all sorts of situations.
My son even has me playing Fornite and you know what, I like spending that time with him. I think there’s an evolution with kids and playing with their parents. It starts with reading books, playing with toys, playing sports, and even playing video games. Go on this journey with your kids. It will take you to some exciting places.