As gifting season draws closer, new games and consoles might appear under the tree. Familiarize yourself with the dangers of online gaming to help everyone stay safe while they play.
The holidays are fast approaching. It will soon be time for over-the-top decorations, family gatherings, spectacular meals, and of course, giving gifts. If you're the parent of a child (or maybe a parent-child) who’s had the pleasure of recently stumbling across the vast and exciting world of online gaming, you know what will be lining the wish list of millions this year.
Yes, they definitely need a few new pairs of socks and underwear. But if you decide to wrap up and slap a bow on a brand-new PC, you should be aware of the extra baggage that can come with it; not limited to the light-up keyboard and headphones. Before you hit the checkout button, let's check out some of the dangers you may encounter with a new gamer under your roof, and how you can help them stay safe online.
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Let’s say that your son, we'll call him Jimmy, just downloaded a brand new game that allows him to step into a fantastical realm filled with dragons, knights, and enchanted castles. Jimmy quickly forges new friendships with his fellow online adventurers, but as you might soon find out: not all quests are created equal. One day, you walk past Jimmy’s room and notice that your son's gaming screen is filled with a chat window—Jimmy is engaging in a lively conversation with his newfound friends.
At first, all seems normal and harmless, but then your curiosity is piqued when you see that Jimmy has been divulging personal information that should have remained a well-guarded secret, much like the hidden treasures in his game. From a young person’s perspective, it makes sense to share everything about themselves because that’s how friends are made. However, by sharing info such as where they live, how old they are, or where they go to school with strangers online, children may risk putting themselves and their families in danger of identity theft or worse.
What’s the solution?
Before Jimmy unwraps his new PC, it’s a good idea to sit down and have a chat about the importance of not sharing personal or identifying information with strangers online. Even if he has slayed mythical creatures alongside this person in an open-world thriller, he doesn't truly know them or their intentions. When you take the time to set up an account for Jimmy, be sure to also look through the online safety and privacy settings that let you decide who can see his profile details and how people can interact with him.
Pay to play
Now, Jimmy is moving on from the aforementioned land of potions and has downloaded a battle royale game filled with colorful characters and wacky dance moves (we all know the one). He loves playing with his friends, and all seems right with the world once again…until you receive a strange new statement on your credit card account.
One of the most common video game threats for children is one that actually affects their parents’ wallets. It turns out that Jimmy used your card or banking information to make an in-game purchase on a sick new skin without your knowledge. And thanks to the existence of Friendly Fraud (when a customer makes a purchase with a credit card and then disputes the charge with their bank without a legitimate reason to do so), it can be challenging for you to get your money back.
What’s the solution?
We’ve all been there. You go to finalize your purchase and the little box appears asking if you would like to save this card's information for future purchases. Chances are, Jimmy’s game has the same box. So, if your child needs your credit or debit card info for making an account or to purchase additional content for their game, make sure that you’re the one who fills it in. You can also triple-check that no future purchases can be made unless the info is re-entered. A good way to do this is by enabling password-protected purchases whenever and wherever applicable.
Finally, now that Jimmy has learned not to share any personal information online or make in-game purchases without your permission, he can play a new game without worry. All is going well. He is having fun running around and exploring, until he receives an unpleasant message from someone playing the same game but for a different reason.
Some cyberbullies thrive in online gaming spaces and love to purposely harass and provoke other players through chat boxes and open mics. Unlike bullies in person, these individuals can use character creation, avatars, and fake names to poke fun at others from behind a screen with an alter ego.
What’s the solution?
Cyberbullies are notoriously tough to deal with, but you can still take action. If your child is experiencing harassment while playing a specific game online, you can take a screenshot of the messages and report them to the game's admin. You can then block the bully to prevent them from further interacting with your child's account. Beyond this, you can also try playing new games with your child when they first download it, so you get an accurate feel for how it works and what they will encounter or be exposed to when you’re not around. This is also a way to further bond with them (and show them that you’re still cool and hip). Then, you can check in with them periodically to ensure that they’re staying safe and not experiencing any form of harassment.
Online gaming can be a fantastic and enriching experience for kids. They can have fun, make friends, learn communication skills, and more. But it also comes with inherent risks. So, if you’re a parent of a budding online gamer like Jimmy, it’s crucial that you take proactive steps to protect your child's personal information and ensure their online safety. By following these tips and fostering open communication, you can help them navigate the gaming space securely, allowing them to relax and enjoy themselves while staying protected from potential threats.