Child Safety in Digital Gaming
The digital gaming world has practically become an essential part of the lives of children and young adults. This can be attributed to the fact that almost all mobile phones come with different types of games that children especially cannot do without. With more and more games moving towards the digital “always online” mode, it has become our responsibility as parents to ensure that our kids are not only safe but also that they are making excellent decisions every time they connect to the digital gaming world. As a parent, part of your responsibility to your children is ensuring that they have access to information that will enable them to understand boundaries when it comes to digital gaming, while also ensuring that you lay a solid foundation of safety and security.
As the world becomes more and more digitally inclined, children are drawn more to the world of digital games perhaps due to the fact that these games are educational, enhance creativity, and are fun and entertaining. They offer some sort of connection with friends that they already know and also provide kids with the opportunity to make new friends.
Digital games allow children to connect, chat and play with a very large pool of players scattered in various locations across the world irrespective of time, geography, age, culture, and language. While this ought to offer new opportunities, the digital gaming world also appeals to hackers and various other people of questionable character which may inadvertently expose your children and even you to privacy and security risks.
As such, it is important that you and your children are able to identify and understand the ramifications of such risks and how to handle eventualities.
The Big World of Digital Gaming
Digital gaming is a huge and enormous market that continues to grow and expand. Recent research has shown that the digital gaming world continues to grow in geometric proportions. In 2020, the global digital gaming market was estimated to have generated about 21.1 Billion Dollars which represents a growth of 21.9 percent when compared to the previous year.
It is estimated that there are over 1 billion digital gamers the world over with China, Japan, and South Korea having the largest reach among their population. It is projected that by 2025, the audience of the digital gaming world will surpass 1.3 billion. This shows that more and more people will continue to explore the digital gaming world and points to how important it is to ensure that your children understand the risks and are protected from any issues that may arise.
What are the risks?
The digital world on its own is fraught with risks but the online gaming world has its own specific dangers. Knowing what these risks are can help your children stay safe in the digital gaming world. Some of these risks include:
- Potential infection of your electronic devices by malware, worms, and viruses. This can occur when your children log on to unregulated file-sharing websites where they search for cheat codes, shortcuts, and time-saving tips. Visiting such websites can potentially put their devices at risk.
- Some emails and file attachments received as a result of visiting certain gaming sites may contain malware which may lure your child into visiting web pages that have been compromised which may install and extract information from your computer and devices.
- Digital gaming oftentimes allows gamers to chat with each other through chat rooms and some instant messaging platforms to allow for communication and the swapping of tactics used in games. This exposes your child to people with ulterior motives.
- Social interactions offered by digital games offer an avenue to pose as friends, family, or even as authentic members of the gaming community. Such people aim to win the trust of your child in order to meet them in person, extract personal information or even target them for a scam.
- Another risk your children may face in the digital gaming world is exposure to content inappropriate for their age and vulgar language. This may come in the form of content created by the game or even those created by some players. As such, even if a particular game appears age-suitable for your child, there may be other content created by gamers that exceed the age suitability stated on the game.
- Your kids may become exposed to aggressive gamers or bullies.
- Your children may expose themselves and your family to certain financial risks. They may unknowingly be persuaded by unscrupulous people they come in contact with to part with their money or those of your family. A lot of digital games allow and even encourage users to buy certain content of the game with the use of real or virtual currency on the game or through their consoles.
- The exact location of your child while they are playing certain digital games may become exposed. As a matter of fact, some mobile games tend to require device location to be turned on, which they may end up broadcasting to others.
What are the best ways to reduce these risks?
Now you understand the risks that your children face every time they step into the digital gaming world. You have every reason to be worried, know that there are ways you can reduce your family’s exposure to these risks. Some of the best ways include:
With all the associated risks of digital gaming, it is essential that you employ a comprehensive digital security solution to help protect your devices and keep the risks of viruses and malware at bay. Install and keep anti-viruses and anti-malware up to date. Regularly update the software on your gaming console and ensure your children make use of strong passwords for their gaming accounts that they keep safe and secret.
It is important that your children are aware of all the risks and dangers that they may get exposed to, through digital gaming. Help them identify, assess, and deal with potentially dangerous situations by explaining to them the risks involved in revealing personal information such as their real name, age, school, password, or location. Ensure that they make use of an avatar related to the gamer name they chose instead of their real pictures and that they don’t give out any personal information. Encourage them to speak to you openly and inform you or any other adult if they or their friends encounter someone that makes them uncomfortable. Let them know that they won’t get punished or lose their game privileges when they confide in you.
Furthermore, encourage them to question everything they see or hear while they are online. Explain to them that people they meet online may give them false information about their age, gender, and overall intentions and that people they meet online are strangers that they must never agree to meet in person without your permission. Also, explain the dangers of visiting illegal downloads and file-sharing sites and why it is important that they use legitimate sites and services to buy games.
Mention to them the various ways through which they may be tricked into spending money and never to agree to any demands without first consulting you and why it is important for them to protect their online reputation and what they share about themselves.
For young children, it is important that you are firm and you let them know that they can only play with the people you both know. While it may seem like your children are not in any immediate danger on the internet, it is important to know that they are yet to fully develop the skills to discern good from the bad. Treat their online gaming friends the same way you’d treat their friends from school or the neighborhood. Ensure that if they are using a headset when playing, that the sound is echoed to the television so that you are a part of whatever conversation is ongoing. That will keep you in the loop of things and allow you to explain why they shouldn’t play with a particular friend in the future or even step in if any inappropriate thing is going on.
You should join in on the fun and play with your children. Ask them to show you the games they enjoy playing, and how to play them. Learn the words and tactics they use and the type of communication allowed with other games. During the process, learn who your kids play with and what they talk about while paying attention to the topic of conversation and the language used in communication.
Almost all digital games come with age ratings and content icons that are there to help parents determine the suitability of any game for their kids. There are usually five age categories ranging from age 3 to 18. There are also content icons that indicate the content of the game including bad language, violence, references to drugs or sex, and whether the game has an online mode. Take a critical look at the age suitability and content icon before purchasing. You can also determine the suitability of specific games by reading the reviews of games on the internet.
- Familiarize yourself with the terms of play
Games are usually based on achieving goals and rewards and this can lead to your kids spending endless hours on achieving tasks and forgetting the more important things like their homework and sleep until they succeed at the mission set out in the games. Before this becomes a problem, ensure that you set out guidelines they must strictly adhere to. Be as firm as possible but remain calm while establishing time limits for them. Make sure that the time limits are well-spaced out in a way that helps them take a break from their computer or mobile device screen.
- Activate parental controls
A lot of game apps come with the option of parental control. This allows you to choose the type of games your children play and also restricts gaming time. Parental controls are usually different for each game device but most require you set a password that you keep safely away from your children. You can also go a step further by blocking in-app purchases of games on their devices and disabling location sharing.
If it so happens that you intend to give away your child’s gaming device, ensure that you delete all personal details from the device. While the way to get rid of these details varies across devices, you should check for the relevant instructions through online support pages. If you are intent on keeping the profile, avatars, or game progress of your child, you can simply move them to the new device before giving the old one out.
- Teach your child how to report toxic and strange behavior
You should help your children identify vulgar and toxic language and how to take action on abusive language. More and more digital games are allowing game players to report one another for toxic language and abuses. Teach your child to stand up for themselves in online spaces by pointing them to the right tools. Various games including Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam have ways to report toxic behavior. Teach your children how to block other players on their platform of choice.
Stay ahead of the game
Digital games present a whole new world of fun for not only the children but also you. Like any digital activity, digital gaming has its own risks. If you however follow the preventive measures stated above, you can protect your children and your family from any risk that may come up. Allow your children to identify, evaluate and handle some of the privacy and security risks under your guidance. This will help your kids have fun while experiencing safety.
Remember that you not only need to monitor and discuss with your kids but also regularly play the games with them. If you don’t find games interesting, allow your kids to teach you. By participating in gaming with them, you will not only understand the game but also strengthen communication with your children by engaging in activities of their choice.