Gaming: What parents and carers need to know

Gaming: What parents and carers need to know

For most children and young people, gaming is a fun way to spend time with friends and create opportunities to develop teamwork, concentration skills and problem-solving. In this article we look at the risks and how to help your child stay safe.

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The popularity of gaming

Gaming is a popular with children, young people and adults across the world. Many games have an interactive online element- whether it's playing against others, chatting or making purchases.

For most children and young people, gaming is a fun way to spend time with friends. Gaming creates opportunities to develop teamwork, concentration skills and problem-solving.

While playing games online is often great fun, it's important you understand what risks there are and what measures you can take to protect them while they’re playing their favourite games.

In-game chat. 

Online games are social activities. Many games have functions allowing users to chat with one another, which can be risky.

Chatting with people they don’t know. Gaming is different to social networks, as players often play against people they don’t know, and this may include adults.

Inappropriate or unmoderated chat. While many in-game chat functions are monitored, and players look after each other, chat is in the moment. In some games swearing and insults are common, especially when a player hasn’t performed very well. Mean comments or insults can hurt, and competitive criticism might feel like bullying for some children.

Requests to chat in private. Some people online genuinely just want to chat about gaming. But once they move to private chat, your child could be exposed to greater risks. They might share personal information or feel pressured to do something that they don’t want to do. If the chat is happening on a different chat or messaging app, then it will no longer be monitored by the game.

Four tips to help you to support your child to stay safe when chatting

  • Have ongoing conversations with your child about who they are talking to online. Discuss who they are, whether they know them offline and what they share with them.
  • Take time to explore games with your children. Ask them to show you what they like about the game and take an interest. Speak with them about making their profile private if possible and talk with them about information that is safe to share, for example nicknames as opposed to full names. Read our article about personal information for more advice. 
  • Be aware of the chat platforms your child is using. Ask your child about what they would do if someone within a game asked to talk to them in private whether that’s on another platform or within the game. Help your child to identify this warning sign and explain what they can do can help them to keep safe.
  • All young people need support to make safe decisions online. It is recommended that primary aged children remain under adult supervision whilst gaming, for example ensuring an adult is within earshot of conversations and able to see any chat taking place.

For more information and advice read our In-game chat: what parents and carers need to know article created in partnership with Ukie (The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment).

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Gifts within gaming

Some games and apps allow users to make purchases. You can buy tools that can be used in the game to give you an advantage such as weapons, coins or cheats.

Many children do not have access to money to make purchases in games, so it can be tempting to accept 'in game currency' to help them progress.

Offering gifts or trades. Some people may offer to trade – or give – your child in-game items or currencies to earn their trust and persuade them to have a separate conversation outside of the game. Remember, if the chat is happening on a different chat or messaging app, then it will no longer be monitored by the game.

Talking to your child about gifts within gaming

  • Speak with your child about bribery and ‘too-good to be true’ offers. Encourage them to question anything they are offered online from someone they do not know offline, and remind them that it’s always better to check in with a parent or carer if they are unsure what to do if offered a reward or gift.
  • Speak to your child about ‘warning signs’. Talk to your child about the feelings they might get when something doesn’t feel right, or be specific with examples. These might be inappropriate words that someone could use in a conversation (efor example, sexually explicit language) or behaviours such as asking for lots of personal information. 
  • Young people can sometimes feel complicit if they have chatted with someone they feel they shouldn’t have or accepted a gift and something has gone wrong. Reassure your child that no matter what might have happened you are always there to confide in and it is never their fault. Ongoing reminders that it’s never too late to get help are important.

If you are worried that a child is being groomed in a game, or on any other online platform you should seek support. You can contact your local police or report to CEOP. If you believe a child is in immediate danger call the police on 999.

If you would like to talk to a professional about any other online concerns, please call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.

What else can I do to protect my children when they’re playing games?

  1. Explore parental controls on games consoles. Most games consoles enable parents to apply settings that can help to manage a child’s online activities.  For more information on enabling parental controls visit Internet Matters.
  2. Get to grips with with the blocking and reporting functions on the games your child plays, and ensure they know how to use these. It’s helpful to sit with your child and  go through this  together.
  3. Learn more about age ratings by visiting the gaming The PEGI rating site, which gives information about the age rating system operating in the UK.
  4. Visit www.askaboutgames.com, which features advice about safe play including using family controls to limit who children talk to, how much they spend in game and time spent online.