The biggest question of the day is here and we’ve all been quietly asking it: Is it safe for children to online game? Let’s talk about that and internet safety practices for children.
The other night at GameStop, I was asked an interesting question by a grandmother of five. She had asked me if I felt that online gaming was safe for kids, if it isn’t, how she should go about letting her grandchildren game when they visit for the summer. The question is one I’ve been asked more than once, it’s a good question because quite honestly, this answer comes as a mixed bag of sorts.
You might recall that I discussed an option called Parental Controls as an added security feature for younger gamers and the benefits they have, but also their double-edged sword: Them being viewed as a lack of trust by those very people (the kids that is). As part of the question I was asked, I decided to think about this from a different direction, and the reason I’m writing this piece, is I want to share my two cents about kids and gaming. After all, this segment, is about the children, keeping them safe, and taking proper steps to protect them from the dangers that can accompany online gaming.
But there’s something great about those features and whether or not it’s safe for your kids to game online, but let’s get to the definitive answer: Yes, if you are willing to take the proper steps to ensure their safety. So let’s talk about those steps.
The online world can be big and scary, but remember those parental controls? Use them to your advantage.
Look, I know the world is a big and scary place. Just the idea of my nephews and niece going online to play a game can be overwhelming, but luckily, it’s not as big and mean as you might imagine. Truth-be-told, it’s helped them learn to socialize better than ever before. In many ways, it’s a blessing in disguise as gaming allows people from all walks of life, good, bad, or somewhere in the middle, to find a middle ground and make the friends they might never have made before.
My nephews love to play games like Rocket League, Sea of Thieves and even Call of Duty: Black Ops IV online with their friends or one another. Thankfully, there are ways for me to prevent some creepy stalker from finding them or sending them a message their parents or myself would rather not have them receive. I turn on parental controls, restricting the ability for them to send or receive messages on my account. You can do the same, which is a wonderful thing to do, and it gives that added sense of safety.
Restricting what features they can and can’t use is one way to protect them as they online game. You can even make it so they can’t chat with people unless they are friends with that person, allowing you to ensure their safety so that they can only communicate with recognized friends, ones you allow them to game with.
But there are also some other options you might consider. One of those options, as I’ve stated time and time again, is a Nintendo Switch, and we’ll discuss that in short.
One of the most important things for parents and relatives of children regarding the Switch: It doesn’t feature messaging or party chat systems
One thing I love about the Switch, especially as an uncle, is that I can feel safe knowing the kids I call my niece and nephews are almost one hundred percent safe when they are online gaming with Nintendo’s services. I don’t have to worry about predator’s, unwanted communications, or their personal information going out in the wild.
I feel safe knowing they are protected and that any form of outside communication is almost non-existent, which to some, can be problematic. Gamers love to communicate, form a lasting relationship with those they call their friends, and bond even deeper with their online friends.
Now, you might be wondering how this is beneficial. It is and isn’t. This is Nintendo’s double-edged sword. I’ve found it to be a bit of a hassle, and in ways, a shortcoming in ways as an adult. I’d love to get to know those I game with on a regular basis, but as an adult that’s trying to protect minors, I understand this design choice, however, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both have slightly better implementations, which allow restrictions regarding certain system functions and online interactions.
Online safety discussions are important: This is what makes online gaming okay for kids if you take the time to educate them
One of the big things about online gaming is something we don’t see a lot of discussion about when it comes to children and gaming: Online safety talks.
The reason I mention this is that online safety discussions are important. I’ve had them with my nephews and my niece when they play on my consoles. They know rather well that they aren’t to talk to strangers, they aren’t to send messages, accept friends requests, give out their real names, or even tell people what state or city they are from.
Doing this helps them remain vigilant against phishing, stalkers, and other shady practices that people might use in order to find out where children live. While I’m all for them having friends, I still discuss safety with them, as they need to know what is okay and what isn’t okay to be shared.
When I want that extra layer of added safety, I turn on parental controls, disabling messaging, voice chat, and other features in order to have that sense of safety if I’m not going to be in the room monitoring their online interactions. Most of the time, I just opt for the Nintendo Switch, having little concern for what kind of interactions they might have with other gamers.
But how do you actually have the online safety talk with your kids? What topics should you discuss?
This discussion sounds scarier than it actually is. A part of you as a parent, a sibling, relative, or family friend, may want to point out the dangers of online gaming. A part of you may want to warn them about child predator’s, foul language, and the dangers that accompany them, but the truth is? These all fall under different categories that you can use to simulate real-life situations. So here’s a few that I use with my nephews:
- Discuss online interactions: Reinforce the idea that their privacy is important. That they shouldn’t be known for their real names, but rather the online ID they are using; i.e. Gamertags, PSN ID’s or their Nintendo nickname. Let them know not to message, party chat, or discuss topics outside their games without proper approval from you. This is so important that I can’t stress it enough.
- Discuss privacy with them: They need to know that their personal information is sacred, that they shouldn’t be handing it out, and that anyone seeking to get that information, isn’t really their friend. See above for topics still included here.
- Avoid the big scary topics: As a parent, relative, or family friend, it’s for you to remain vigilant, to know what to watch for. It’s your responsibility to keep tabs on their online interactions. Remember, you are their elder, you should have access to the child’s accounts regardless of how safe you think they are.
- Parental Controls: Use them. Seriously. Use them. These features are there as safeguards against online interactions and potential child predators, which scary as it is, is a real-world problem in online gaming and the most recent busts having occurred on Fortnite as of recent (Want proof? Sainty on YouTube has been helping lure them out and even Today has been reporting on this issue).
- Ultimately: It’s your job to keep up-to-date regarding their online interactions. it’s important that you do.
Don’t think online gaming is big, bad, and as mean as it sounds. I’m in my thirties, I’ve been online gaming since the days of AOL 2.0 with games like DOOM, Warcraft II, and even World of Warcraft, but what you do need to know, is how to protect your kids and what types of talks you need to have with them.
The more they know, the better off their time online can go, just, you know, discuss online interactions with them, what is okay to talk about and what isn’t. That’s all you can do as an adult (aside from parental controls).
Online gaming isn’t nearly as big, mean, and scary as it sounds: Remember that.
As we come to a close, I want to reinforce what I had to say: Online gaming isn’t necessarily a bad place for children. There are some great benefits to gaming including the social aspects of it all. I’ve met some of my closest friends through online gaming, I’ve met up with them, and even had a blast talking to them over the course of 15+ years.
Just to give the best example I can: One of my closest pals has asked me to be his best man this October for his wedding, and we met on Xbox Live through Burnout Revenge and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. So there are some great added bonuses to it, but it’s ultimately up to you, as an adult, to monitor the online interactions your children have and to ensure their safety in the big and sometimes scary world of online gaming.
You may also like the following The Children’s Corner volumes:
- The Children’s Corner: Should you set up parental controls on gaming devices?
- The Children’s Corner: How Nintendo 3DS and the Switch might be best for the kids
- The Children’s Corner: There are some great benefits to your kids and gaming
- The Children’s Corner: Should you listen to the ESRB labels placed on games?
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.