The online world is full of allure for people of all ages, especially young children, but with that excitement comes a host of potential safety concerns. As parents, we feel the need to be more vigilant about cyber safety and teaching our children how to protect themselves online, but as more irresistible games like Minecraft and Fortnite become accessible on the internet each day, it’s becoming harder to keep tabs on common problems like cyberbullying. Fortunately, there are a handful of tried-and-true methods of making sure your kids have a safe and positive experience playing online games, so while the kids are fighting their virtual battles, you can win yours.
Use the right software
We all have a range of programs installed on computers or mobile phones, and spam threats can come from almost anywhere, a problem which will only grow as our children do. In recent years, some young children have been affected to the point of losing sleep over worrying chain emails.
Chain emails are a sophisticated scam which targets young children who then share these emails with all of their peers. For example, the assailant will send an email along the lines of “share this email and you will receive a FREE iPhone”. Often these emails contain links to viruses which kids unknowingly download onto the computer and effectively steals personal details.
Fortunately, there are software providers on the market which have committed to enforcing anti-spam regulations in a bid to reduce the spread of spam and inappropriate content. Supporting responsible providers and encouraging others to do the same is an easy first step towards a safer online experience for our children and our devices.
Enforce time limits
The idea of placing time restrictions on games is nothing new, and that’s because it remains of the simplest and most effective ways to maintain control over screen time. Health experts around the world are recommending that we monitor and reduce the amount of time our children are spending online and playing with high-tech devices. Two hours is the recommended maximum time limit for kids aged 5 to 17 years, while kids aged between 2 and 5 should spend no more than one hour per day in front of a screen.
It sounds fair enough, but limitations like these can feel like punishments to a screen-addicted child. To maximise your chances of achieving a positive outcome, be sure to replace screen time with something else your kids will enjoy. We all need more quality time together with our families, so try planning a few outdoors activities the kids will enjoy.
Join in the fun
If you can’t beat them, sometimes joining them really is the best strategy, especially in the world of online games. By asking your kids to include you in their game, not only are you strengthening bonds and building trust, but you also get an opportunity to supervise in the most direct way possible. You might just surprise yourself and learn something about the virtues of their favourite games. Most importantly, once your kids realise you’re not trying to stop them from having fun, they’ll be more inclined to confide in you, which could be key to preventing dangerous situations down the track.
Encourage open discussions
With access to the internet and platforms like Twitch, our children gain the capacity to send and receive messages of any kind to almost anyone. The trouble is that not all of these messages will be truthful, positive, or conducive to good mental health; in fact, some of them are designed to hurt or instil fear. This is a trend which could be slowed or stopped by parental intervention if only the lines of dialogue were more open. Teaching children the importance of vigilance and protecting their personal information is critical
Get to know the game
It can be very difficult to protect our kids from things we don’t understand, and since viral online games often exist in a digital world filled with unfamiliar rules and characters, there’s a lot to be learned. If you notice your child playing a new game, take the time to do some research into its rules and functions so that you’re aware of exactly what’s possible in this alternative realm. Games like Minecraft are filled with anonymous players, leaving children vulnerable to unwanted interactions with strangers, bullying, and even hacking, but the standard safety settings can also be adjusted to your liking. Unfortunately, some platforms with a focus on live-streamed content, like Twitch, aren’t so easily censored. The very nature of live-streaming makes it almost impossible to control what your kids see online, so it’s a good idea to restrict access to these platforms if you can.
Get to know the players
It’s no secret that predators exist on the internet, and enough of them frequent these viral online games to validate our concerns as parents. If you’re serious about keeping your kids out of harm’s way, it’s time to get familiar with the popular content creators your children watch or interact with. Find out what they look like and the types of content they usually produce, and maybe even follow them on social media or content platforms. This way, you’ll have a more complete understanding of those exerting influence over your kids online and what they’re all about. This might sound extreme or over-protective, but the unfortunate truth is that a handful of creators on platforms like TikTok and YouTube have been known to use their content as a device for grooming young fans.
Protecting our children from bullying and other dangers online can feel like an uphill battle, especially as technology continues to evolve, but basic communication and education will always be a solid defence. By showing a special interest in their online activity, you’ll probably find that your kids are more than happy to let you into their digital world, and make it safer in the process.