An estimated 30 million kids who game talk to strangers while playing. Here are steps you can take to keep them safe online.
I remember, back in the 90s, when AOL chatrooms first became a thing. It was so exciting to sit at my family’s computer and log on to AOL (oh dial up internet, how far we’ve come!) and find a chatroom full of people who, in theory, shared similar interests. There were always people who typed lewd and inappropriate things, people who were annoying and people who seemed to just type one letter and keep hitting enter to keep the page moving at lightning speed. But it was also a place to virtually meet people.
The excitement, for me, was wondering who I might “e-meet” when I joined a chatroom. Would it be a cute boy? An older boy? A new virtual bestie from somewhere else in the country? Lucky for my parents, I had a busy afterschool schedule and three other siblings who also wanted to get online so I was never able to spend any significant time in chatrooms virtually conversing with people who may or may not have actually been who they said they were. But now, as I’ve become a parent in the tech age, it is a very concerning parenting topic: who my kids talking to online?
Video game chats and kids: the danger
As parents, we know the dangers of the internet. We’ve been told time and time again, when we were kids and now that we are parents ourselves, that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are. We are told to be vigilant, to know which websites our kids are visiting, to restrict adult content and so on. We know that SnapChat and Instagram are popular places that unsavory individuals look for our kids and target them for nefarious reasons.
But what about video game chats? According to this article, nearly one third of children play video games with strangers. One third! That means when your kiddo is logged onto Fortnite or Minecraft or a number of fun online video games, there is a high probability that they are conversing with strangers. And while many of those strangers are likely other kids around the US or the world who are also just playing a game they enjoy, you must be aware that not every person on those games is innocent or well-intentioned.
Video game chats and kids: how to keep your kids safe
According to the Center for Cybersafety and Education, 40% of kids have chatted with a stranger online. More than half of those kids have given out their phone number to a stranger and more than 20% have chatted on the phone with a stranger. These are certainly concerning numbers!
These numbers highlight overall internet usage, not just gaming. But even if you are vigilant about the websites your kids visit and the social media they are allowed to use, there is a hidden danger in gaming and the strangers your kids are being exposed to using popular gaming platforms. There is no need to tell your kids no more Fortnite, though. You can help them better understand their risk by instituting a few rules and having a few conversations about online safety as it relates to gaming.
Video game chats and kids: outlining the rules
Set a few rules and reminders for kids about chatting online in general as well as when it comes to gaming. Honing your digital parent strategy with these rules and others is an important step toward keeping your kids safe online.
No giving out phone numbers online- yours or theirs.
Remind your kids not to give out personal information. This includes your address, your social media accounts, even their school or teacher. Don’t let them give out anything identifying.
Tell them no photos- even if it’s of something innocent. So often, pedophiles start this way. They ask kids to send a photo of their pet or their favorite toy and then move onto innocent body parts- feet, hands- and it spirals from there.
Encourage your kids to come to you if something feels off. If they feel someone is asking them to do something they should them, encourage your kids to come to you. Remind them you won’t be upset that they came to you even if they were engaging in a chat when you told them not to or accepted a DM from a stranger when you forbade the practice.
Drill your kids with the most important internet reminder: what they put out into the virtual world cannot be taken back. I remind my daughter this all the time. Even if the other person says they will delete. Even if the recipient says they won’t show it to anyone. I tell my daughter continually “If you wouldn’t show a photo or a text to a room full of 10,000 strangers, do NOT put it in a text, a chat, a social channel or out on the internet in general.” What your kids send out into the cyber world, even innocently, can never truly be scrubbed away.
The internet can be such a wonderful place full of memes that make you smile, games that help you pass the time, photos of friends near and far and so much more. It is just important that we remind our kids- and ourselves- of the power of the internet. Don’t overlook gaming platforms that the virtual strangers lurking in the chatrooms. So often we don’t let young kids have phones or social media channels but we overlook their stranger danger in gaming chats. Knowledge is power. And, as they say, knowing is half the battle.