The Perils of Online Gaming
How to protect your kids from addiction and harassment.
The gaming industry has seen radical growth since the advent of Pac-Man and Pong. Flooding today’s market are massive online multi-player games that are being criticized for exposing kids to the same dangers plaguing other online communication platforms, including cyberbullying, sexual predators, and addiction.
For parents, the first step in creating a game plan for safe online gaming is educating yourself about the risks:
Cyberbullying and sexual predators: Newer multiplayer games come with voice-chat software that enables players to communicate through both voice and instant messaging. This can expose your child to the dangers of cyberbullies and sexual predators.
Hiding behind virtual personas (avatars), computer geeks can easily become bullies, resorting to their tech expertise to harass fellow players. In-game spats can escalate into real-life problems when these bullies hack into others’ accounts, pose as acquaintances, and use instant messaging to spread rumours. Other common ways they spread their mayhem include verbal harassment, cheating, blocking entry to online areas, and attempts to sabotage performance.
Also hiding behind avatars and game handles (screen names) are sexual predators who often pose as children to get victims to disclose personal information.
Tips: The best way for your child to avoid harassment is to ignore bullies. Setting up private game areas exclusive to friends and restricting them to games that come with a code of conduct and terms of service will markedly reduce your child’s exposure to cyberbullies. Logging out after each gaming session and keeping passwords private can also make your child a less vulnerable target.
To protect against sexual solicitation, kids should exclude personal details, such as name, phone number, location, address and school name, when filling out profile information. Tell your child not to respond to sexual solicitations or approaches by strangers. He should report it to you and to the game administrator. If you suspect your child is interacting with an Internet predator or is being threatened or harassed, save all correspondence and report the activity to local authorities.
Internet Gaming Addiction and Exposure to Adult Content: In fantasy realms where role-playing feels too real to put on pause, a hobby can easily spiral into an addiction. Media watchdogs and the popular press have named online multi-player, role-playing games as a culprit behind the gaming addiction epidemic and suicides.
Tips: Preventing online gaming addiction requires a proactive approach by parents. Here are some things you can do.
▶ Use Net Nanny software and adjust built-in game console controls to set restrictions based on age, Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings, and content material. These tools also enable you to control the amount of time your child spends online and the websites she visits.
▶ Take advantage of online directories of kids’ games categorized by type (e.g., word games, interactive stories) and by age group (spanning preschoolers to teens). If your child is under the age of 10, it’s important to sit with him while he plays online and to make sure the game is age-appropriate. Be aware that even seemingly kid-friendly websites can link to other sites with adult content.
▶ Establish your own set of rules and talk to your child about the games she is playing. Place the computer in a common area of the home so you can supervise game playing. Set limits on game time to help your child develop healthy gaming habits; no more than two hours a day should be spent on gaming and computer use. Also, enforce a policy where homework and chores must be completed first.
▶ Review and update both your rules and parental settings each year. As your child gets older, they will naturally outgrow some content and usage restrictions. Ideally, you want to progressively loosen the controls and step up the Internet safety guidelines as your child earns more responsibility.
▶ Seek professional help if you observe any changes in your child’s behaviour or an increase in computer usage. Some signs of gaming addiction include: falling grades, failure to complete school assignments, dropping out of social groups or sports teams, choosing time on the computer over spending time with friends, lying about computer or video game use, irritability when not at a computer, and sleeplessness.