Gaming might get a bad reputation when it comes to children, but there are equally valid arguments for why parents should let kids play games. However, no matter which side of the fence you favour, there is one thing that all parents can agree on; they will not let their children play online games unless they are more than 100 percent sure their kids are safe online. Adults understand the dangers of interacting with virtual strangers on the internet – and might have even been stung a few times with some less than honest meetups on dating sites – but children often have no way of understanding the alarming consequences of giving personal information to people they’ve never met in person. The last thing any parent wants is for their children to find out these dangers the hard way.
That said, there are still benefits for children who play online games; children who are shy have a chance to practice their social skills in a controlled environment; anyone struggling with a subject in school can get the same knowledge in a way that makes sense; and fantasy games can fuel kids’ imaginations. For parents looking to strike the right balance, here are a few tools you can use to keep your kids safe online, without compromising their fun.
Lead by example
A study conducted by Nominet revealed that, on average, parents share nearly 1500 pictures of their child by their fifth birthday. Furthermore, 85 percent of parents hadn’t checked their privacy settings in over a year, while only 10 percent were even confident of knowing how to do so. You can’t expect your children to take your warnings about safety and privacy online seriously if you don’t follow your own advice. Sit your kids down in front of your computer, and show them how you’re keeping your personal life private by only sharing things with close friends and family. If you have time, go through your friends list and explain how you know each person that sees your private posts, so they can see that you’re not sharing anything personal with strangers. If there are things you share with the public – like links to your business website or Instagram pictures that are relevant to your job, then explain why you’re sharing them and why it’s still not the same as sharing personal information. The clearer you are about some basic internet privacy guidelines, the better they will understand what they shouldn’t share.
Basic internet security
Although online gaming does pose a risk to children, it also poses a greater risk to your software. If you have an outdated system, such as Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OSX or Windows Server 2003, you’re more likely to catch a computer virus that will almost certainly cost you a lot of money to clear away. Before your children start playing online games, make sure you’ve upgraded to a system that is supported by the latest software, so that your IT security is able to protect against viruses, spam, and spyware. It’s also good to set up parental controls on your computer so your children can’t access suspicious websites, or accidentally download a virus. Malware may even hide in email, text or file attachments or in instant messages. If your kids are going to play games on computers or other devices that you use to conduct your business, you need to stress how important it is that they don’t open emails or download files from anyone they don’t recognise. If they have their own email accounts, you can advise them to add spam control.
Sometimes it takes a while for some basic safety lessons to stick, and you may end up having the same conversation about sharing information online more than once. If you’re specifically worried about your child’s safety on social media, Minormonitor is an app that helps you safeguard from the inherent dangers of Facebook and Twitter. This app will let you know when your child adds a new friend with few or no mutual friends. It also keeps track of your children’s activities, such as shared photos, status updates, and private messages. It will allow you to step in if you have concerns about their online activity.
YouTube Kids App
Parental controls and talks about online safety can go a long way towards protecting your children, but there are a few things that you might not have considered a risk. You may not use YouTube as anything more than a site for music and funny cat videos, but it’s also full of inappropriate content for younger viewers. Fortunately for parents, YouTube has recently released the YouTube Kids app for Android, iPad, and iPhone. The interface is simpler and the algorithms use a filter to search for results that are more suitable for children. This will let you keep your kids safe on mobile devices, while parental controls on your laptop should take care of the rest.
MobSafety Ranger Browser
It’s great when you finally feel that you can trust your children to play safely online, and you don’t have to worry about viruses, but soon you have another set of problems; getting them off the computer. If you’d like to limit the amount of time they spend online without physically pulling them away from the electronic devices, MobSafety Ranger Browser is the answer you’ve been looking for. In addition to letting you dictate which sites you children are and aren’t allowed to browse, MobSafety Ranger Browser lets you limit internet access to times you want to allow it. Leave them enough time in the afternoon to complete their homework before you add their access for social media.
Avoid high bills
Most online games are free, but sometimes kids can get over-excited about getting extra lives that they can run up a large bill without even thinking about it. You can use the parental controls on certain games so that kids can’t buy anything without your permission, and if you’re giving devices to younger children you should set it to Flight mode – this way they can play, but they can’t pay for anything.
Talk about cyberbullying
It would be nice if the internet was a safe place for everyone, but the need for conversations about internet safety obviously means that this isn’t the case. It’s easy to convince children that they can avoid dangerous situations if they practice some common sense online, but there is another way that they can get hurt playing online; cyberbullying. Even when they’re away from school or the playground, kids can still experience horrible bullying while they’re at home, either through texts, email, social media websites, or online gaming platforms. They could be getting bullied 24 hours a day without you even knowing about it. As parents, you need to talk to your child about cyberbullying and let them know you’re always there for them if they’re in trouble. Encourage them to unplug every once in a while and let them know they are not at fault if they’re being bullied. On the other hand, if they are the one doing the bullying, let them know that technology is a privilege – not a right – and harassing another child is an abuse of that privilege. If they aren’t mature enough to treat others with respect, then you can’t trust them to use technology at all.
Most parents are still finding their way around internet safety, because it is a fairly recent addition to childhoods, and it is also constantly evolving.