When you look in your living room, are your teens and tweens immersed in a video game on a console, computer, or cellphone? Chances are, the games they’re playing have online connectivity. Gartner reports that a large portion of the $111 billion video game market consists of online games. 38 percent of minors enjoy video gaming as a hobby, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and there’s plenty of benefits to encouraging them to play online enabled games. They provide your kids with entertainment, socialization, computer skill development, and brain stimulating activities. Unfortunately, these socialization elements also open your tweens and teens up to certain risks and dangers, such as becoming a victim of hacking or social engineering. Knowing how to protect your tweens and teens and developing their own risk- aware skills is an essential part of safe online gaming.
Checking Appropriate ContentOnline games span many genres, from a hidden object game by iWin to MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. Pay close attention to the rating and types of content and concepts presented in the game your teens and pre-teens are playing. Consider playing along with your children to see exactly what information your kids are picking up, as well as steering them to age appropriate games if the content is not suitable for them. The Entertainment Software Rating Board handles video game ratings, starting at EC for early childhood and going up to AO for adults only.
Checking for Chat RoomsMany online games have chat rooms or messaging functions to provide social interaction with other gamers. Online games with parental controls allow you to filter out bad language, block private messages, and control whether your child gets chat room capability or not. This is another way of ensuring your kids aren’t exposed to inappropriate content. Some games also allow you to mute specific players if a particular individual is harassing your child.
Time MonitoringThe allure of online gaming makes it easy for your children to spend many hours playing all of the games at their disposal. Track the amount of time that they play through parental monitoring software. Some games, such as World of Warcraft, allow you to prevent an account from being played past a daily or weekly amount, or restricting the time of day that the child can log in. This helps you keep your kids happy with their favorite activities while not allowing it to take up all of their free time.
Avoiding HackersOnline gaming portals provide hundreds of games through a single website. Some of these games play directly in the browser, while others are downloaded and installed on your computer. Keep the computer anti-virus running to avoid downloads and browser plugins with viruses and trojans attached. Read through gaming portal reviews to find legitimate sites, or check gaming magazines and blogs for this information. Check for https encryption when your child logs into the site, and handle downloadable game installations yourself to stop companion software, such as toolbars, from getting installed.
Check Game EmailsSome online game services send out emails informing players of new developments, specials, and updates. Phishers take advantage of this by posing as official game representatives and tricking users into providing account information. Monitor the email address your child used to sign up with a service, and screen any emails for phishing attempts.
Contributor: James Stewart