Online gaming is a popular outlet for teens and tweens who are looking to interact with other kids in a fun and engaging way—but is it safe? The answer is generally yes, as long as parents and kids take certain precautions.
The first step is to make security a high priority. If your child is going to be using a computer for gaming, make sure your firewall is working and your anti-virus software is up to date. Look into the parental controls that are built into your Web browser and enable them. If your child is using a phone or tablet, you may wish to restrict their ability to make purchases within a game unless you enter a password.
When creating gaming profiles for kids, ensure that their user name doesn’t reveal personal information, such as their name, age, password, or hometown. If a game or app uses location services, turn that feature off so that their real-time location can’t be revealed. Make any passwords strong, and keep them free of identifying information. Keep all passwords and login information in a safe place so that you can access your child’s profile at any time.
Once these security measures are in place, talk to your kids about some situations they may encounter within a game. Explain that they should never give out personal information through chats or direct messaging. Also, let them know that strangers may offer them the chance to download certain “cheat” programs that allow them to advance further in the game. They should be instructed not to accept these downloads, as they may contain viruses or other malware.
Another issue they may have to deal with during online gaming is harassment or inappropriate contact by other users. Let them know that if any player makes them feel uncomfortable, they should end the conversation immediately. Teach them how to block or report any player who makes them uncomfortable.
Perhaps one of the most helpful steps that parents can take to make their child’s online gaming experience safe is to adopt an “open door” policy. Keep computers or phones in a central location in the home, where they’re visible. Set time limits on when and how long it’s okay to play online.
Better yet, be willing to interact with your kids while they’re gaming, or even to play with them. That extra step can help to keep your kids as safe as possible online and help you to engage with them in a way that’s fun for everyone.