9 ways to protect your child against online gaming dangers

Don’t neglect the online safety talks just because your home isn’t online.
Don’t neglect the online safety talks just because your home isn’t online.

South Africans are well versed in security measures to lock down their homes, but many are still leaving a door wide open to criminals by letting their children play online games unsupervised, says Christine Nel, commercial director at Maxtec. 

Here’s what you need to know about the potential risks, and ways to keep your kids safer online.

Also see: Prince Harry is calling you out for letting your kids play Fortnite

Is your child into gaming online? Has it ever given you a cause for concern? Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

1. Keep it age appropriate

Don’t simply hand a connected device to a small child and expect them to play within appropriate platforms: they will explore beyond the parameters.

All devices and gaming consoles today come with family safety settings. Take the time to read up on these specific instructions for establishing these settings and make this a consideration of the device you choose to buy for a child.

  • Consider the age and maturity of your child and the games they are asking to play. Review store ratings and content descriptors: do the games seem to be a good fit for your child? If there are older gamers in the home, kids will often want to play the games they see being played rather than the ones that fit their age group. Consider the sensitivity of games played by older siblings and stick to age-appropriate ones for the younger child even their older siblings are playing more matured games.
  • Consider the gaming device your child will play on. Are the safety settings in place for your child? Do these match his level of maturity? Do they help you set appropriate boundaries with regards to the types of games allowed, who they are allowed to interact with, and the amount of time they can play? If not, be sure to configure these safety settings before your child starts gaming.
  • Talk to your child about appropriate gaming. Conversation is crucial as it sets the framework for understanding and collaboration for gaming successfully. Talk about the safety settings you have put in place, about the types of games that are appropriate or inappropriate, about the time limitations and the importance of having a balanced experience with online gaming, friends, activities, and school. Let your child know that you will periodically check on their gaming – particularly if it includes conversations with people you don’t know – to be sure the conversations are respectful, aren’t sharing too much information, and so on.

2. Teach your kids that ‘gaming friends’ are still strangers in the real world

In games, participants can escape reality and assume different identities, so online predators may appear to be other children, and children can assume the identities of older youths.

Friendships may develop with inappropriate gaming partners, who may try to influence kids or contact them in real life.

3. Understand the game's environment

In the same way that you protect your child from criminal activity, you shouldn’t leave them to explore the gaming world unaccompanied – particularly if they are young.

The anonymity of the gaming environment creates a breeding ground for character deformation, with children often participating in daring actions they would not try in reality, such as virtual gang activities, sex offences, stealing, and even self-harm or murder. 

Explore the environment yourself to see whether you are comfortable with the levels of violence and the style of one-to-one interaction between gamers.

By participating in the gaming environment, you’ll pave the way for honest communication with your child about their gaming achievements and anything that makes them uncomfortable.

Also see: Video games: how to explain the good and bad to a 9-year-old

4. Don’t assume that all cartoon characters are harmless

Popular children’s programme characters are often replicated for use in satire, or for downright disturbing videos and games. Check that the cartoon your child is engaging with is the legitimate, child-friendly version.

Research the source of these characters, related internet links and reviews on the character. Check if these characters can be found on legitimate online stores and if they have any age restrictions.

5. Have the tough conversations 

With 68% of the 22 million mobile device users in South Africa aged between 2 and 17, the online world is a hunting ground for predators. Teach your children about the risks of predators, explain how they ‘groom’ their victims, and emphasise why personal communications with virtual strangers is so dangerous.

Make sure your kids know they can talk to you about anything that makes them uncomfortable online. 

6. Limit information sharing

Explain the risks and insist that your children only offer the bare minimum personal information about themselves in the gaming environment. They should not share photos, bios or information about where they live or attend school.

Also see: How do I keep my kids safe online?

7. Don’t neglect the online safety talks just because your home isn’t online

You may not have internet access or gaming devices, but your kids will likely be able to access games at friends’ homes or simply on mobile devices. Warn them of the risks they can encounter in the online world.

8. Remember cyber risk

Children are easily persuaded to download content or click on tempting links that promise exciting new videos or games.

Cybercriminals can exploit this vulnerability to access your home networks, from where they could access your home cameras or your digital devices. Monitor what your kids are accessing and teach them to identify and avoid potentially dangerous links and content.

9. Communication is key

Encourage dialogue with your children and explain that there is help for them with any problem they encounter like cyberbullying, hacking and inappropriate behaviour by using the report abuse functionality within the gaming sites.

As this is the case let them also know that any inappropriate behaviour on their part will have consequences and can be exposed by anyone they are likely to abuse.

Chat back:

Is your child into gaming online? Has it ever given you a cause for concern? Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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