Back to School Means More Gaming Time With Friends: How to Keep Kids Safe Online

Tips for parents to protect their children when they spend time online.

By Jenna Greenspoon, Head of Childcare at Kidas

During the summer months, parents have enjoyed the screen break that many children have had. Children of all ages had the opportunity to take time out from video games to spend more time doing sports, biking, or camping. Even the most avid gamers likely spent less time in front of the screen and more time on the playground this summer. Now that the kids are back in school, that inevitably means more playtime with friends. While gaming is a worthwhile hobby, time spent online comes with risks. Here’s how you as a parent can deal with it.

Who does your child talk to online?

From the moment your child turns on a video game, it becomes accessible to strangers everywhere. Depending on how your child’s account is set up, anyone playing the game or using the app can connect to them. What may seem like an innocent conversation with someone your child’s age and interests may actually be a relationship that leads to cheating, sextortion, data breaches, and more. Here’s what you can do.

Be proactive

Talk to your child about proper online gaming etiquette. Start the Stranger Dangers Talk! Have this conversation with your child early on so they understand the dangers lurking behind the screen. People are not always who they say they are and sharing personal information or entering private chat rooms is an absolute no-no! Now let’s examine the threats.

Sexual harassment

When you think of threats children face too often, sexual harassment springs to mind. “Why should I be concerned about sexual harassment in an online video game?” That might be something you’re thinking. However, according to UNICEF, as of 2020, 80% of children in 25 countries said they “feel threatened by sexual abuse or exploitation online”. Contact with online predators mainly takes place in chat rooms, on social media or in the chat of a multiplayer game, where suspects start conversations before moving to a private chat app. Once you are in the chat, sextortion will take place there.

Predators start by gaining your child’s trust and then request something like nude photos. After they are shared, the predator threatens to share them publicly unless the child agrees to their continued requests. In some cases, getting them to meet in person leads to sexual abuse. Most children will not tell anyone, and most children who have been sexually abused do not report it to law enforcement out of embarrassment or fear. As The Guardian reports, “The Internet Watch Foundation reported 2021 as the worst year on record of child sexual abuse online.”

What can you do as a parent?

It is important to have open lines of communication with your child. Check in with them regularly, find out who they’re talking to, and make sure they’re comfortable talking to you, even if things go wrong. Children who fear repercussions for making a mistake online are less likely to go to their parents when they are in trouble.

Predators rely on children being too scared to ask for help. Regularly remind your child about the dangers of the internet and a few simple rules:

  • Never send pictures to anyone on the internet. You don’t know what they’re used for or who they’re shared with, and once they’re sent, you can never get them back.
  • Never allow anyone to blackmail or threaten you online. It’s never okay for any reason.
  • Remember that anything you do with a webcam can be recorded by others. Live streams can be watched and rewatched by strangers over and over again.
  • If it doesn’t feel right, stop. Block and report anyone you feel uncomfortable with.

cyber bullying

Another all too common threat is cyberbullying. Many children are bullied online by children they know or by strangers they don’t know. Cyberbullying can take the form of hurtful comments, harassment, threats, stalking, or other harmful behavior. There are many types of cyberbullying, but they all have the same intent. Many children who experience cyberbullying feel isolated as many of them are afraid to tell anyone what is happening. In addition to cyberbullying, many victims also have problems at school.

What can you do as a parent?

Keep an eye on your child and look out for signs:

  • If your child has been bullied in real life, keep an eye on them and their online environment.
  • If you notice changes in your teens’ social interactions, it can also be a sign of cyberbullying.
  • Watch for changes in their behavior. While all teens are fickle at some point when something seems different or doesn’t feel right, check in with them to see if something bigger is afoot.

If you discover cyberbullying, talk to your child calmly and thoughtfully. Limiting Internet usage is not recommended. Removing them from the internet can prevent teens from being bullied online, but cyberbullying can worsen and become a bigger problem.

Your role as a parent is to make sure your child is safe and feels safe. Parents can talk to their child about safe internet use and help their child to block cyberbullying. Sometimes a consultation is required. If cyberbullying is a criminal offense, you should also contact the police.

A common response from teenagers is, “This could never happen to me.” That’s what a lot of people think. They think they’re not sharing the wrong information with the wrong person or that they know who they’re talking to online. But how good?

Teens and everyone else online believe the information they are told. You have no reason not to believe the online predator who says he’s the same age as your kid and has some of the same hobbies. You have no reason not to believe the person you’ve been playing with online for the past three months when he says they just want to hang out at the mall, so they meet up in person.

Teenagers see the good in people, especially when they connect with them through video games, and believe they have nothing to fear. Although no parent wants to scare their child unnecessarily, they feel it on a daily basis. While it’s impossible to be on top of your child day and night, there is software that parents can use to help keep their children safe. For example, for video games, many parents use a software from Kidas called ProtectMe, which warns parents about threats their child encounters while playing video games. ProtectMe offers recommendations on how to deal with the threat.

As students settle into the school year and get back to the things they love, like video games, parents can take a deep breath, knowing that with open lines of communication with their child and a little help from outside resources, like protection software, Your child is safe and secure online.

Jenna Greenspoon is Head of Parenting at Kidas, a technology company focused on developing anti-cyberbullying and predator protection software for PC games.

Image above © Stanisic Vladimir / Adobe Stock

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