There’s no denying that the internet can provide plenty of enrichment and education for your kids. From websites with educational games to fun YouTube channels geared around teaching kids new things, some screen time here and there can really help your children expand on their interests and delve deeper into subjects that fire up their neurons.
But the internet can be a dangerous place just as much as it can be an enriching one. And if your kids are gaming online, then you’ll need to equip yourself with all the tech knowledge required to be a cyber-savvy parent.
Thankfully, you don’t actually need to know too much about the internet to help your kids stay safe when connected. Here are just some tips and tricks that you can use to help your child navigate the world of online gaming and all the unseen dangers that accompany logging on to the world wide web.
What Do Your Kids Need To Play Games Online?
The first thing you’ll need to wrap your head around is what your kids will actually need to play games comfortably online. This means looking through gaming consoles and other hardware like a wide range of fibre optic cables (just to ensure that they have the strongest internet connection).
Alongside a gaming console or PC, a modem and router, and gaming controllers (or keyboards and mice for those playing on PC), your kids will also need to use cybersecurity tools like VPNs and firewalls. Thankfully, these are easy enough to source and install. In fact, you may have already used a VPN before, namely when travelling.
Be sure to source all these gaming essentials with your kids to make sure that they’re all the right fit for them. Setting everything up with your little helpers is also recommended as they’ll also be able to equip themselves with an understanding of how to use all their new online gaming technology.
What Are the Risks of Online Gaming?
With enough player freedom, a seemingly harmless game can display inappropriate content to players. This may be through use of being able to draw, write inappropriate words, or being able to upload photos to the game. This problem is less common than it used to be, but games that haven’t undergone ratings approval – like browser games – might still see this crop up.
Keep an eye out for what customisable restrictions the game has listed in place, and consider steering your child away from those which don’t follow a particularly thorough approach to protecting minors online.
Cyber-bullying & Harassment
In games where players can speak freely to each other– via text or voice chat – there is the risk of rude, profane, or cruel players interacting with your children. Games designed specifically for children like Roblox usually have robust profanity filters and punishing reporting systems that block or dissuade this kind of behaviour, but they are not infallible. Games that are not designed around children– like Call of Duty – may still have profanity filters, but to be safe, consider muting the in-game chats.
Besides verbal abuse, there is also the risk of being scammed or tricked by other players. This is a common issue in Roblox servers where players will collect or buy items. The best thing to do is to teach your children to only use in-built trading systems, and to check with you before making any big purchases to avoid dealings that sound too good to be true.
Few online games are truly free, and are instead free-to-play. Free-to-play means that certain content will be locked until you pay for it. This content might be access to new areas, items, clothing, or pets, but whatever it is, these games main interest is to sell these items.
Children are especially vulnerable to free-to-play spending, and may spend money recklessly if they get the chance. So, regardless of the console or device, you should make sure that all purchases require your password before allowing a real purchase that comes out of your bank account, even if your child has their own phone.
Malware & Viruses
It’s difficult to harm your computer from an online game, but it is possible. The first method is by unknowingly downloading a virus when trying to download a game. This will not happen on a reputable game provider like Steam, Epic Games, GOG, Microsoft, Humble Bundle, or Origin.
The second method is usually done by clicking on a link in the text chat that takes you to a scam website or download malware. For this reason, many games do not allow outside links to be posted in the text chat, but browser games and some of the less rigorously tested games on Steam may have this issue. The best prevention is to teach your child to not ever click on text chat links.
How can I tell if a game has online interactions?
An online game can range from a mobile app, to a Nintendo Switch cartridge, to a website. Thankfully, Australian console games – such as those on Playstations, Xboxes, and the Nintendo Switch – will tell you directly whether they include online interactivity or not. The coloured classification at the bottom left of the game’s cover will have a rating depicting the content of a game to help you make an informed choice on whether or not you want to provide your child access to it – G, PG, M, MA, or R. Beside that will be the reasons, such as online interactivity.
It’s also well worth checking age classification ratings for your child’s games. Generally, so long as the game is rated appropriately for your child’s age, the online interactivity will be at a similar level. For example, a PG (Parental Guidance) online game like Pokemon Scarlet will only allow players to use safe preset phrases to interact, but a MA (Mature Accompanied) game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 will allow full voice chat, and have very few limitations in place.
Mobile and PC games, on the other hand, are less intuitive. Mobile games do have an age rating system, but they do not consider online interactivity. And PC storefronts like Steam, Epic Games Store, and Itch.io range have varying levels of detail on how they classify the age appropriateness of their games . That said, the Microsoft storefront does include Australia Classifications, making it easier to check.
So now you have a bit more information on how you can begin to navigate the world of online gaming to keep it a safe and enjoyable virtual environment for your child. But to recap, here’s a list of our recommendations to follow:
Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe
- Check age ratings and online interactivity before buying games for your child.
- Teach your child about protecting their privacy online.
- Spend some time seeing how your child interacts in online games.
- Encourage mindful and polite behaviour, and to avoid rude players.
- Keep purchases safe behind your password.
- Teach your child to only download games from reputable storefronts.
- Teach your child how to mute, block, and report players.
If you have concerns that your child has fallen victim to a scam when gaming online or that your child has received abusive messages from another player, then we recommend that you file a report with the eSafety commissioner promptly so that the incident is recorded and that you can receive more information on how to respond or what next steps may need to be taken with regards to your case.
With these tips and tricks at your fingertips, however, your kids should be able to enjoy their online gaming experience with minimal fuss, and pick up some great computer skills along the way too.