Safe Online Gaming
Most people enjoy playing games, so it is no surprise that video and online games are very popular with adults and children.
Avoid nasty bill shocks! Make sure you check to see if games come with in-app purchases or in-game charges before you really get into them. This is especially important if your gaming account is linked to your debit or credit card. Turning off in-app purchases on your device before you use the app means it will let you know before charging you.
As annoying as it can be, checking each game’s terms and conditions for potential charges really does pay. Definitely check the terms and conditions if children are accessing games: many parents have received huge bills when their children have played games that require them to buy weapons or players for teams … Children and teens may not understand that they are ‘buying’ the items, or that they need real money.
Most people enjoy problem-free online gaming but scammers and predators are also active and use online games to connect with potential targets.
If you enjoy playing games or joining online experiences with people you haven’t met in real life, take extra care with what information you give away. Be alert to a player who asks you for personal information—your address, hobbies, name, email or phone number. Take particular care if another gamer seems overly interested in you very early in your gaming ‘friendship’.
If you feel uncomfortable with questions or requests from someone online, block them and report them. You don’t have to tell them anything. If they persist, that is a warning that they may be a predator or scammer.
If someone threatens you, or approaches you with offensive material when you are online:
- report them
- keep the evidence
- contact your local police.
Advice for parents
Gaming can be a great way for families to connect and have fun together. As with most other media, games vary in terms of their content with some having high levels of violent or sexual content. It is a good idea for parents to check the age appropriateness of online games to help guide children’s online game use.
Because some online games encourage team work and interaction with others (including adults) online, children and teens are best protected when they keep their personal information to themselves. Discourage children from having personal conversations in online games.
Here are some suggestions if your children play online games, particularly on sites that allow them to interact directly with others:
- supervise their interactions
- establish rules for your children to follow so that they know:
- what to do if they receive disturbing content or contact from others
- what information they are allowed to give others
- show an interest in your child’s gaming, without judgement
- encourage your children to talk to you if somebody seems too interested in them. Grooming is a very real risk, as predators use online gaming to find children, so be open about the fact that some adults seek out children to harm them.
It is very common for parents and children to disagree about how much time they spend online, whether it’s gaming or watching videos (including videos about gaming). If this is a problem for you then setting clear time limits can help. Every family is different and every child is different so decide how much time each child is allowed for gaming and other screen time, and when and where they can do gaming.
It can help to manage the time limits and develop a flexible plan for those days when changes are necessary. Give your children early warning when you need to change the rules around how much time they can spend online. Consider setting up a rule to cover exceptions for when they will get less or more screen time than usual. Extra busy days or long waits to see a doctor can fit in to the exceptions rule and you can avoid expectations for extended time the next day.
When to worry
Many parents worry that their children are gaming too much.
Consider reviewing how much time your child is online or the things they do online if:
- online activities are stopping them going outside, meeting friends, playing sport
- they seem obsessed with particular websites or games and are angry when they need to stop
- they are spending much more time online than they used to
- they are often very tired because they are online into the small hours
- their school lets you know that they aren’t getting school work done
- they seem isolated or withdrawn from offline friends and activities
- their personal hygiene is suffering
- they are always in their room
- their behaviour changes for the worse.
Some of these indicators may be developmentally appropriate behaviours for young people, but they may also be indicators of other issues. Talk to them about your worries — starting a conversation can encourage them to open up to you.