Last week, we discussed the important topic of establishing healthy video game use habits that are consistent with the needs of your child and family.
During part 2 of this series, we will take a look at online gaming and ways to encourage safety for your child during online gaming experiences.
Online gaming occurs when an individual plays a game online through a console (PlayStation, Xbox), smart phone and/or tablet, that may involve interactions with other gamers during the process.
A difference between video games and online games is that no rating system exists for online games, leaving parents in the dark about the quality and content of games that their children are accessing. In addition, online games may include chatting features that allow for interaction with other gamers, opening the door for children to communicate with others whom they do not know.
While this may not be new to today’s parents who may have communicated through online messaging services as a child, the accessibility of these chatting features outside of a family computer located in a supervised setting can lead to more challenges for parents attempting to monitor online chatting.
Setting Expectations for Safety with Online Gaming
One way to help monitor your child’s access to online gaming is to setup consoles and devices in a shared living space and to limit access to take place only when a parent is present.
Another tip to encourage safe usage of online gaming is to talk with children about safety and to include their knowledge and feelings into the conversation.
When talking with children, notify them of some of the dangers involved in online gaming and establish the rules that your family has for keeping them safe. It is important for your child to understand your expectations for what can and cannot be shared with other gamers online, such as personal information like passwords, credit card information, phone numbers, addresses or locations (of home, family members, school, etc.).
This resource provides some tips for talking with your child about online gaming safety, as well as gives you more information about the online gaming experience.
Because children are not fully aware of the dangers of online gaming, your child may have a strong reaction to limits set regarding making friends online. It is important for parents to know that to children, online friendships are more commonplace than what today’s parents remember from their own childhoods.
Keep in mind that all friendships start out as strangers, and in today’s technologically-fueled world, your child actually can build a group of online friends that can grow into strong support systems and healthy relationships. These friendships could bud into friends they really care about and look forward to getting together with online, in the same sense as they would play with other peers in person.
In order for this conversation to go well, your child needs to feel supported and respected for their desire to connect with online peers. Making fun of them for desiring to connect with peers online is not going to get the conversation started out on the right foot. While exploring topics of safety, parents should also keep in mind that respect for their child’s desire to engage in online gaming is imperative for the conversation to have optimal outcomes.
To keep them safe online, talk with children about the importance of identifying red flags, such as those engaging in online harassment, unsuitable online behavior or attempts to know more about them than is appropriate for the game. This is a great time to engage in conversations about cyber bullying and to develop a plan for what to do and who to turn to if this is taking place.
Protecting Financials in Online Gaming
Another essential thing to note as a parent is that most online gaming systems are linked to some form of payment or credit card.
Many modern games extend the fun of the game by adding in- app purchases, such as adding bonus levels, character skins, game expansions, music, virtual coins or in game currency, characters, season passes, and other game enhancers. You don’t want to get caught with a huge credit card bill on your next statement due to your child unknowingly spending money on their gaming platforms.
Spending money online can be hard for young children to conceptualize. It can be easy for kids to get caught up in clicking and to not even realize that they have spent your real, hard-earned money during game play.
Most platforms have the ability to set up parental controls to manage your child’s spending. Some consoles or platforms have the ability to set spending limits, block purchases, and/or to require parental approval for every purchase. You can also use these same parental controls to limit game time, access to multiplayer games, and/or chat features.
It is necessary to talk to your child about what your expectations are for this. You may decide to not allow any in-app purchases, set up an allowance for spending within their games or require parental permission for all purchases in advance. It is important that you discuss this with your child early on and with each game.
Next week, part 3 of this series will explore ways to establish the right gaming routine for your child and family.
Rachel Thyberg, CSW-PIP, RPT is a contributor to this article. After working with children and adolescents in play therapy and learning that video games are such an important aspect of the lives of children and adolescents, Rachel sought out additional training on using the language and culture of video games within the play therapy process.
Rachel has utilized these trainings to better understand her clients and to help parents and their children begin to navigate conversations about video game usage in their home.
If you have more questions about how to talk with your children about video game usage or need help navigating this experience, please contact Encompass Mental Health for more information.