This week, a horrifying story highlighted the risks of online games – where a six-year-old girl was invited into a ‘sex room’ in the online game Roblox.
Thankfully, the little girl’s mother saw the room (filled with cartoon characters having orgy-style sex), and realised her daughter was playing the game with an adult stranger.
Earlier this year, the National Crime Agency warned of the risks of Fortnite – the hit online shoot ‘em up – where text chat could expose children to predators.
Children playing online games are not just at risk from predators: games are often filled with abusive language, and one in two gamers admit to having been bullied, says anti-bullying activist Dr Liam Hackett.
Dr Hackett, founder of cyberbullying charity Ditch the Label, says the key is to approach children in a non-judgemental, non-confrontational way.
Try the game yourself first
Before allowing children to play a game, either try it yourself first, or research online to see if it’s appropriate – paying attention to issues such as whether there’s a chat system, Dr Hackett says.
Dr Hackett says, ‘Firstly, make sure the game they are playing is age appropriate. Consider researching the game yourself to get an idea of game play, moderation effectiveness and the themes covered.’
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Don’t spy on your child
While playing games with your child can be healthy, it’s crucial that they don’t feel you’re hovering over their shoulder says Dr Hackett.
Dr Hackett says, ‘It is important not to violate their trust or to try and control what they are doing online.
‘Do not spy on your child, unless you have serious concerns and communication has broken down. Some children might like to game with a parent or sibling, whereas others may not. Be respectful and age appropriate in your approach.’
If you think there’s an issue, tackle it in a non-confrontational way
Rather than banning children from games, it’s best to try to get them to ‘open up’ about potential problems says Dr Hackett.
Dr Hackett says, ‘If you have any concerns then try to talk to your child in a non-confrontation way. A good idea would be to go for a walk, side by side, and ask open ended questions – build up to asking them how they are finding their new game and ask what kind of things they have been doing.
‘Walking side-by-side and avoiding eye contact is a proven way to encourage your child to open up.’
Make sure your child knows they can tell you about people they meet online
You should ensure that children feel comfortable telling you about problems they might encounter in the game, Dr Hackett says.
Dr Hackett says, ‘Maintain and build a trusting relationship with your child. Keep an open conversation and talk about the things they are doing online just as you would offline. Normalise the conversation and make sure they know that they can report any concerns to you.’
Don’t shout at your child about what they do in games
Even if you do disapprove of a game that they’re playing, don’t shout at your children about it, says Dr Hackett.
Dr Hackett says,’ If your child ever reports an uncomfortable experience to you, positively reinforce it by telling them they did the right thing and react in a judgement-free way.
‘Don’t shout at them, even if you are annoyed – it is important that your child feels they can talk to you without getting into trouble.’