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Online Gaming – Friend or Foe?

Online gaming is popular with kids, but it can be dangerous.

Sally Davies, discusses how to keep gaming safe for children and how to gain their trust.

Now, I have been to many schools to talk to parents about the various issues surrounding online safety. The number one “evil” is that of gaming and its potential for children to be approached by strangers online. So the question is, should we allow children to play online? The answer my friends is YES, of course!  Online gaming is brilliant. It’s fun and it’s great for the development of various skills.

There are various platforms they can use where they can get absorbed into this world:

  1. Consoles such as the Xbox, Play Station etc.
  2. Mobile apps – a huge growth in this area.
  3. Handheld games such as the Nintendo Switch.
  4. Web games via websites.
  5. PC games (a little old school).
  6. Augmented reality (e.g. Pokemon Go).
  7. Virtual reality games – where headsets can be used or a smartphone can be used as a headset aka V.R. on the cheap!

All of the above have the option to play online and to chat to other players which is where the ‘stranger danger’ factor arrives.
There are, however, so many advantages to allowing your children to play games online so why would you want to ban them? Some of the pros are as follows:

  • Social engagement and growth. Yes, this is key.
  • Technological development – our children’s skills are just getting better and better!
  • Games foster creativity even in those who think that “computers are boring”.
  • Setting and achieving goals – instilling motivation and goal setting at an early age.
  • Absorbing information in a fun way. You can learn even the most boring of content via a game these days.
  • Children can practice and demonstrate being responsible online and can reap the rewards from parents.
  • Gamers develop the art of multitasking.
  • Playing in teams online can develop team spirit between players.
  • Developing a bit of a competitive streak is never a bad thing.
  • Learning how to win and how to lose – this I feel has become a little lost in today’s society! Winning is great!
  • Improves skills in logic and reasoning – these skills can be applied into everyday life. Essential.

HOWEVER, there are potential dangers of this gaming culture:

  • Inappropriate content. Sexually explicit language within the chat or a scare factor with the games themselves. I am 42. I am scared of clowns (don’t judge).  In the game Roblox, there is a clown game – eek! In summary, some games on there may be a little bit too scary for those playing them.
  • Risks of inappropriate contact.  Cyber-bullying can occur in gaming too. This could be via chat, or alternatively, an opponent keeps destroying things you have built-in a game/world. They could do this repeatedly, a more subtle form of cyber-bullying.
  • A big risk is the vulnerability of our children – giving away personal information to ‘online friends’ as they don’t know the difference between an online friend and a real friend.   They are too trusting and too naive.
  • Health – physical and mental. People do get addicted to gaming. It’s crucial to keep it healthy. Issues such as cyber-bullying also have an extremely negative impact on the mental health of young people.
  • Commercialism. For you, as a parent who has allowed your child to download a free gaming app…be aware.  These free games make their money from in-app purchases. “Hey, buy some more gems” says the game. Kids click yes. Your bank balance screams “Noooooooooo”!! Remember add-ons can be costly.

Now why on earth would I say let them play games online if there are dangers around? Surely it’s best just to ban online gaming in the household? Well no. Children will find a way to do it anyway, but by banning it, it will be behind your back. This is when it actually becomes dangerous.
So my tips for you are as follows (sorry, lots of lists today):

  1. Play the game, get to grips with it. Get to grips with the settings. Talk to your children about how to play the game. Trust me, they will LOVE that.
  2. Read up on the game reviews – get a balanced view. Don’t just google ” dangers of…”
  3. Look at the chat facility within the game – make sure you change the settings for your children.
  4. Go through these SMART rules with your children:
    • Safe: Don’t give personal information to anyone online.
    • Meeting: Never meet up.
    • Accepting: Friend requests – do not accept from people unknown to you in person.
    • Reliable: Only chat with real friends and family.
    • Tell: Tell someone if something untoward has happened.
  5. Look at the settings – for chat, friends, privacy
  6. Look at the parental controls within the settings
  7. Make yourself familiar with the PEGI age rating system
  8. Understand the report and blocking functions and go through this with your children.
  9. Have an agreement/contract with your children about how long they can spend on their tablets per day.

So in summary, TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN at an early age about gaming and the dangers that are out there. Go through the settings with them. Make sure it’s all set to private, that they aren’t able to chat, that they can’t have friends requested etc.  Go through how to report and block with them. Be interested in their games (even if you aren’t). Have conversations with them about their progress. They will trust you, they will be honest with you, and they want to show you what they are doing. By having these conversations early, regularly and in an honest open way, your children will tell you if something untoward occurs, which, if you have done all of the above, shouldn’t actually happen anyway.
It isn’t easy to cover the topic in a brief blog, but hopefully, you get the gist.

All that’s left to say is … stay safe people 🙂

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The author

Sally has a long history of working in schools and education. She has always been heavily involved in IT as a subject area in her 15 years of teaching and leadership roles but now, no longer a teacher, she focuses solely in getting the e-safety message across to students, staff, parents and the community. She now provides workshops and assemblies to students, briefings to parents and community groups and inset and twilight training for staff. She also provides 1:1 IT skills tutoring to those who require that extra boost to their skills. In her e-safety role, she covers a variety of areas including the following and more: The changes and trends over the last few years, Understanding cyberbullying the media used and its impact upon our children, Understanding grooming, the media used and the signs to look for, Understanding sexting, it’s platforms, the laws surrounding it and the consequences, Understanding what the digital footprint is and what not to do, The technologies our young people use (online gaming including Roblox, social media including snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, twitter, YouTube, live streaming, Tik Tok and more), The laws and consequences of actions, How to broach the subject with our children, How to keep our children on the safest path

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