While video games can be a great source of entertainment and can help strengthen computer literacy, it’s critical for parents to understand the real dangers associated with the online gaming world and be informed about how to best protect their kids. Far too often, parents assume that their children are safe when they are parked in front of a gaming device – it’s a game after all, right? Unfortunately, all of the dangers accessible through the Internet are also accessible through gaming devices now, including the following:
Pornography: Much of the content in online games is hyper-sexualized, and pornographic content is even embedded in many popular games. Many parents would be shocked to know of the amount of cross-marketing between the pornography industry and the gaming industry. Some games even exist for the sole purpose of simulating sex, allowing kids to engage in a myriad of virtual sex acts.
Predators: Through multiplayer online games, kids can interact with kids around the block or strangers from around the world. Predators are using online gaming platforms to connect with children, to build shared experiences, trust and camaraderie, and to groom children into having an offline sexual relationship.
Cyberbullying: Schoolyard bullies have turned to technology to threaten and harass other kids. In the online gaming world, these cyberbullies (also known as “griefers”) will taunt, cheat, gang-up on, torment, and target other kids in the online gaming environment.
Violence: More than 70% of American teenage boys have played the violent and adult-rated Grand Theft Auto video game series, and those who have played are far more likely to have been in a fight than those who have not played, according to a new Gallup poll. The most popular games tend to also be the most violent.
Other Dangers: Addictive access, adult language, identity theft, and privacy issues
Check the game ratings: The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) considers the amount of violence, sex, controversial language, and substance abuse is found in a game. Based on these considerations, the ESRB has developed the following rating guidelines to help parents:
EC = Early Childhood: Content suitable for children 3 years and older that contains no objectionable material.
E = Everyone: Content suitable for persons ages 6 and older. The game may contain minimal violence and some “comic mischief”
T = Teen: Content suitable for persons ages 13 and older. Content contains more violence, mild and even strong language and/or suggestive and even sexual themes. (I would recommend that any parent play or seriously research “T” rated games before allowing their teens to play)
M= Mature: Content suitable for persons ages 17 and older with mature sexual themes, intense violence, and strong language.
AO = Adults Only: Content suitable only for adults, which may contain graphic sex and/or violence.
RP = Rating Pending
Keep the gaming devices in a public area of the home and monitor mobile gaming devices and smart phones. Most parents don’t realize that most gaming devices have the full capabilities of any laptop computer, and kids can have access to pornography, violence, strangers, and other dangers found online.
Set time limits regarding your child’s video game use, and use parental controls on gaming devices
Have regular conversations with your child about their media use and play games with them
Block strangers and bullies
Protect personal information
Use parental controls. Most gaming consoles have Family Safety settings or Parental Controls that allow you to manage when and how your kids access video games, movies, and TV shows through their gaming device. These tools allow you to customize access to games, videos, and all console services; control what your kids can play, with whom they can communicate, help protect private information, and set time limits for use. You can set up multiple family accounts for each of your children, and any modifications to the family settings will have to be parent-approved.