I am all for my child playing online games. Of course that comes with a BIG caveat: As my daughter nears the double digits age bracket, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying about internet predators and I start to wrack my brain thinking about how best to keep her safe online in these electronically formative years of her life. It’s not enough that I have to worry about the scum that I can actually see. Now I have to worry about the virtual ghosts who flit about in the places my daughter likes to explore as her burgeoning knowledge of the Internet grows. It’s tough to fight an enemy that is wraithlike like this but it’s not impossible. As lucky as kids are to be growing up in the digital age, we parents are equally lucky that so much has been done on our behalf to keep our precious children safer than ever before.
Here are a few tips to help parents to keep kids safe online. While they may seem like "no brainers", you'd be surprised...
Be engaged with your child.
There is simply NO substitute for parental involvement in a child’s gaming life. Not only do parents need to monitor what their children are playing, they should regularly check up on who they are playing with.
Parents should also play with their children. While the games may not be the most intellectually stimulating, the tradeoff is worth the extra yawns. Tweens and younger kids in particular will love sharing virtual time with Mom or Dad and parents get the added assurance that what their kids are involved with is safe. Even if parents don’t actually play, sitting with a child and sharing time while they play is as effective. Nothing is better at keeping kids safe on the internet than having parents involved.
Know what your child is playing.
Make sure that the games they are playing are “Mom & Dad Approved”, that you know what they are taking part in. Left to Google or any other search engine, kids can be taken to all sorts of rotten back alleys on the Internet. If parents are comfortable with their kids playing SWTOR or WoW in a monitored way, that’s cool. Just know.
Play it first.
Something else to consider is making sure that, if a child expresses interest in a game, parents check it out before giving permission to play. If parents do their research ahead of time and learn what the game is, who made it, what safety precautions they have implemented and what the financial commitment is, they will be able to make a better decision with their child about the appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of any given game.
Choose games from reputable sites and publishers.
Child-friendly MMOs are popping up all over. Whether it’s Wizard101, Little Space Heroes, Super Hero Squad Online, Club Penguin or Animal Jam, kids can enjoy safe MMO gaming these days. It’s no longer necessary to rely on a search engine to find kid-friendly online games. This new breed of developer not only specifically creates games for kids and actively pursues certification by parenting organizations and Internet safety alliances.
Look for child safety accreditation.
Games that are safe for kids will proudly display their child-safety certificates and awards. Some are, frankly, quite easy to get but many require an involved process to earn. Parents should look for these awards and track back to the certifying agency to find out the requirements for the accreditation. It never hurts to start with the good old ESRB rating and move onward from there.
Find and read the posted child safety measures the game has in place.
Parents should make sure that the steps taken by a game company are stringent enough to keep children safe online. Things like filtered chat, in-game GM presence, notification about inappropriate behavior/contact and protection of a child’s information should be in place before allowing a child to participate in a game. Most of the reputable gaming websites allow parents to choose how strictly they want their child monitored.
This is just a basic starter list of things that parents can do to keep their kids safe online. What about you? How do you keep your child safe online? Let us know in the comments.