So much of our daily lives are dependent on computers and being online. Socially, economically, professionally and academically we are driven online and we literally have access to all the world’s knowledge from our keyboards or game controllers. But this also means that predators have open avenues to us and our children.
Today I am going to provide you with information on the realities of online predators and how to keep your children safe when they are gaming.
Online gaming is one of the most popular ways that game systems are used today. Not only do you get to talk real time to your online teammates, but you can trash talk to your “enemies” either using your voice or a chat feature. This level of interaction allows users to develop friendships, but it also opens the door for predators to befriend your children. So how do you protect your children without taking them away from their game systems? Let’s look at some expert recommendations.
- Learn the game system, the games, and the communications features. Yes, YOU, the parent. Just because you have no interest or skill in the arena of online gaming does not mean you do not need to under the features and capabilities of the systems, games, etc. Did you know that 94% of all gaming console traffic to PornHub come from Xbox and PlayStation systems? Did you know that those systems even allowed web surfing? THIS is why you need to sit down and get to know the system you have in your home.
- Use the parental controls. Each gaming system comes with features to allow parents to set limits on game ratings; online browsing; in-game purchases. Research the system and SET THEM UP! It is also recommended to do a search on “backdoor” workarounds that tech-savvy children use to get around parental restrictions and how you can disable that option! And if your children are very young, you can choose NOT to put your gaming system online.
- TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN OPENLY AND HONESTLY about online gaming and the potential negative behaviors they may encounter. Make sure they understand that online anonymity is not anonymous and absolutely is not permission for they themselves to be jerks. Your children need to understand that you know how the systems operate and what types of interactions occur in multiplayer games, so if they run into a negative experience or “someone weird”, they know they can trust you to understand and help.
- Location, location, location! Set up the gaming system in a public part of the home and establish clear use limits. While privacy is an important aspect in everyone’s life, allowing young children to “hide” their online gaming activities in the basement rec room or their own bedroom provides a greater risk of “secret” behavior.
- Understand the game ratings. If you do not understand the rating, you cannot understand the online game community your child is joining. Each game that your child has will have a rating on the package, EC for “early childhood” through AO for “adults only”. This is a limit you need to establish with your children from the get-go as to what ratings are appropriate.
- Resist the urge to classify gaming as a waste of time or that they are just for losers that will live in their parents’ basement forever. Your child should never feel that you do not understand or support their interests. Online gaming is a HUGE community that for man is a place of acceptance and understanding. A place that people can more freely be themselves because there is a sense of anonymity. Show an interest in the games that they play, the friends/teammates/quest mates that they have, etc.
- Tell your children it is NEVER okay to exchange real-life information online. This means not telling their teammates/quest mates what town/city they live in; the name of their school; their real name; their phone numbers, etc. It also means absolutely no sharing of photos!
Some of these steps or recommendations may seem extreme, but the dangers that online predators pose is very real. On June 22, 2018, a 25-year-old man from New Zealand hopped on a plane bound for Virginia seeking out a 14-year-old girl he “met” through the online gaming communication site Discord. He arrived at this girl’s home with duct tape, pepper spray, and a knife. He first knocked on the door but was denied entry by the young girl’s mother. He next tried to break in the basement door, despite the mother telling him several times to stop and that she was armed. He didn’t stop. He next grabbed a large patio stone and threw it through the sliding glass door to make his entry. The mother was forced to shoot him. He wasn’t even willing to stop when confronted by the adult of the house, threatened with the knowledge of a firearm in the home or calling 911. He was intent on getting to that girl.
This case makes it very clear that online predators are real and willing to go to great lengths to fulfill their disturbed and violent needs. It is estimated that there are 750,000 predators online at any given time and they are posing as the type of “friends” children make through online gaming and then grooming these targets. Therefore, it is vitally important that you know and understand the gaming systems in your home and establish clear ground rules for use and set up parental controls.
And remember, even with all the parental controls in place, the best defense for your children against predators is that they feel respected, understood and loved so that they trust you to protect them even if they make a mistake and end up as a target.