According to a study conducted by McAfee, just over 50 per cent of kids in Australia play online games on which they can actively talk to other players.
Given the fact that the same study revealed around 76 per cent of Australian parents allow their kids to play between 1-4 hours of games a day, that leaves a pretty enormous window for these kids to potentially be exposed to inappropriate content, and people.
Add to that the fact that never, in the history of space and time, has a parent been able to prevent their kids from playing video games and we have ourselves a little conundrum, don’t we?
Online gaming poses a particularly interesting problem for parents because no other generation has ever had to deal with this before. We can’t exactly ask nana and pops for advice from ‘the good old days’ – they think ‘PS4’ is a type of medicine and ‘Fortnite’ is a measurement of time.
Still, there are things you can do to help encourage safer online gaming habits…
1.Pay attention to what they’re doing
It might be as simple as just sitting in on them while they’re playing a game (if they let you!) to see what kind of stuff they’re getting up to. If you see or hear anything you’re unsure about or don’t like, you can talk to them about it there and then and steer them towards better behaviour. By virtue of them knowing that you are not completely clueless as to what they get up to online, they’re more likely to behave appropriately.
Online safety can be as simple as sitting down with your kid and establishing some ground rules. Things like never giving out any personal information online, never agreeing to meet anyone you meet online in person, and telling a parent if they’ve been sent any inappropriate content. Establishing an honest and open dialogue with your kid early on is a great way to ensure they feel like they can trust you when it comes to any potentially difficult or uncomfortable situations.
3.Set time limits
If you’re concerned about your kids’ online activity, make sure you only let them play at times when you can be around and check in on them every now and then, and set time limits so you don’t need to worry about them gaming their life away. They’ll hate that, of course, but that’s all part of being a parent, right?
4.Check game ratings
It sounds simple, but a huge percentage of parents do not pay any attention to age ratings when buying their kids games. This isn’t just problematic from a content point of view, but because games rated M or R are much more likely to have older players playing them, meaning your kid will be exposed to an online environment that could easily be a few years above their proverbial pay grade.
If you really want to know what goes on in the vast universe of online gaming, you’d do well to jump on yourself and spend some time getting familiar with different games and the online worlds they inhabit. Not only will you be able to decide for yourself what is and what isn’t appropriate, but by understanding the games your kids are playing, you’ll be in a much better position to engage with them on the subject. After all, kids are passionate about these games, and showing a genuine interest is no different to showing an interest in anything else your kids might enjoy doing.