Is online gaming for kids and teens safe?
It’s my sense that many or most parents do apply a level of oversight to which video games their kids play. The ratings issued by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) give parents comfort that if a game, for example, is rated “T” (for teens), then it is safe for teens to play. Perhaps that level of comfort is misplaced. The ESRB takes it one step further and identifies which games share user info, share user location or allow users to interact online (note: most games come with the disclaimer “Online Interactions Not Rated”). It is possible that many parents are ignoring this second set of warnings.
The risks to the kids are twofold: the risk that they will come into contact with vulgar or abusive communications by or from other players, and the risk of being susceptible to approach by predators. Neither should be taken lightly. In an article in the Montreal Gazette this week, one expert is quoted saying:
many parents might be shocked at the language, the abuse and the deceit that can occur in online games, with adult predators masquerading as youth to gain the friendship and trust of young online players.
In a second Canadian story from earlier this year, a CBC reporter investigated predator risk for young gamers:
the CBC launched a small sting operation in which reporter, Gosia Sawicka, posed as a 13-year-old girl on PlayStation Home, a free game accessible on PlayStation 3.
Within minutes, her online persona Em_giirl13 was approached by several people, many asking sexually explicit questions and asking for photos, and sending private messages and invitations to voice chat.
As a parent there are three things that you can and should do:
- Pay attention to the primary ratings for games your kids are playing (at home and at friends’ houses)
- Be aware of the second set of ratings, and understand what information is being shared and what kind of interactions are allowed for each game your child is playing, and
- Sit nearby periodically when your child is playing to get a sense of what kind of interactions are occurring in-game.
There is really no alternative to a hands-on approach. Not every harsh word online is bullying, and not every stranger online is a predator, but the kids’ safety has to come first. For more information, check out the section of the ESRB website devoted to gaming software resources for parents.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.