Gaming is everywhere. Increasingly games are no longer confined to consoles and computers, with more than 2.2 billion people playing games on mobile devices worldwide.
Many mobile games are played online and can have a multiplayer option where gamers can interact with their friends, as well as strangers all over the world. Many also have private messaging features. The average age of children using mobile devices is 10 years old, so it’s important to know how to help your child keep safe when they’re gaming online. Particularly if it’s a game that allows contact with other players.
The actions that you take to keep your child safe will depend on their age and stage – younger children will need more supervision, while older teens will need less. We’ve put together some tips for you to help your children enjoy games safely.
Understand why they enjoy gaming
It’s easy to dismiss gaming as well, just playing games, but there are more benefits than you might think. Some online games help to develop and hone skills like communication, team work, collaboration, strategy and hand-eye coordination. When you talk to your child about gaming, try to understand what it is that they specifically like about playing online games. This will help your understanding, and help them to feel like you care about something that is important to them.
Things they might like about playing online games includes:
- The challenge of coming up with a strategy to win
- Playing with others in a team environment
- Talking and communicating with other players
- A sense of accomplishment after winning
- The creativity and imagination of playing in an online world
- The autonomy and independence to accomplish goals
- Being good at something and seeing themselves improve over time
You can also have a go at playing the game yourself to better understand it – and spend some quality time with your child doing something that they enjoy. Although online games can be enjoyable and teach young people valuable skills, it’s important that their gaming is not interfering with other aspects of their lives such as school work, sleep or physical health.
Before Downloading a Game
1. Parental Controls
Both mobile and traditional gaming platforms offer parental control features or apps which requires you to okay any game your child tries to download. Depending on the age of your child and any other factors that may come into play (e.g religious or cultural beliefs) it is well worth looking into implementing this. If the game needs to be linked to an email address, you could consider linking your own email address.
2. Check ratings & reviews
Before your child downloads any game, check the age rating and read reviews from other parents. Websites like Common Sense Media offer game reviews by parents, for parents. You could also consider playing the game yourself first and get a feel for the online player community and familiarise yourself with any reporting or blocking procedures.
3. Set boundaries
Talk to your child about the game before they get started and set some boundaries about how many hours you think it is appropriate for them to play the game each week. It’s also a good idea to discuss appropriate online behaviour and the expectations you have of their own online conduct. Remind them that they should never share any personal or private details with someone they meet online – this includes not using personal information in their username.
4. Make a plan for if something goes wrong
It’s important to go through any terms of service or community guidelines with your child and talk with them about the types of behaviour they may experience from other players while playing the game. Make sure they know how to use any blocking and reporting features and let them know that they can always talk to you if they encounter something that makes them feel uncomfortable or upset.
After downloading the game
1. Set up the privacy settings
Learn how to configure privacy settings, particularly for any private messaging feature. Remember, many adults play games rated for a general audience and you never know who is behind a gaming profile. Make sure you use a strong password and talk to your child about not sharing any personal information online.
2. Be wary of in-game purchases
If the game requires a credit card to make any purchases and you agree to linking your credit card, ensure that you remove your credit card information after each purchase.
3. Check in
Check in with your kids when they’re playing and show interest in their progress. Ask how they are going and if they have any concerns about other players. Note any changes in behaviour or sleeping patterns, or if they start talking a lot about a new friend they met in the game.
4. Keep an eye on the settings
Depending on your child’s age, you may want to check their profile and messaging privacy settings from time to time to ensure that their information is kept as safe as possible.
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