Good Digital Parenting
Blog | May 31, 2018

The Rise of Online Gaming: Tips to Stay Safe

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As of 2017, there are over two billion gamers worldwide and 27 percent of them are under the age of 18. This means that children and teens are becoming more engaged with video games because of the wide variety offered. This surge in popularity may make it difficult for parents to keep up with the range of online safety features offered.

What can parents do to keep their families safe?

One of the easiest ways to stay safe is to first engage with your children around the video game. Make playing video games a family affair by playing the game together! Studies have shown that playing video games together has a positive impact on your child's development and long-term relationships; by getting to know their favorite pastime, you can understand them more and learn about how they process things. That being said, there are unique challenges to keeping you and your family both virtually and physically safe. Here are some things to think about when you're ready to address playing video games with your family:

  • Age Ratings: is your child playing or watching an age appropriate game? It's common to buy games based on the Entertainment Software Rating Board's (ESRB) age and content ratings. There are three core components of the ESRB rating system; rating categories suggest age appropriateness, content descriptors indicate content that may have triggered a particular rating, and interactive elements highlight interactive or online features of a product that may be of interest to parents, such as the ability to make in-game purchases and the ability to interact with other users. For boxed games ESRB also provides rating summaries, which go beyond the ratings to give parents a detailed yet brief description of exactly the kind of content they would want to now about when choosing a game for their child. You can find a game's rating summary by searching on esrb.org and/or the ESRB Rating Search App. ESRB ratings are a quick and easy first step to help you decide whether or not a game is appropriate for your children and family. It is also important to engage with the game yourself so that you can understand the storyline and purpose and see if there are any upsetting or disturbing scenes. See for yourself if you are comfortable with your child playing that game.
  • Parental Controls: Parental controls are available on every console, handheld gaming device, computer, phone, and tablet. Parents can activate these tools to manage the amount of time your kids can spend playing games, how much money they're permitted to spend on in-game purchases, with whom they can play online, and which games and apps are off limits based on the ESRB-assigned rating information. You can find more about parental controls, and step-by-step parental control guides on esrb.org. In additional to the parental controls built into your device, you can get even more control options via additional software.
  • Account Security: Is your child using a two-step or two-factor verification method? Both methods protect your accounts by requiring additional information after entering your password to get into your account. If not, what are the privacy settings for the game? Many games today are connected to the Internet and can be played on either consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation, the computer, or mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets. Get familiar with privacy settings for each device so that there are no surprises. It is important to be cognizant of each game, app, or website's privacy policy to know what personal information is being stores, why, and with whom it can be shared. While removing mentions of your child's location or address in their profile is important, entering the correct age of your child ensures that potentially inappropriate content is blocked and that certain privacy regulations are protecting your child.
  • Blocking and Reporting: Because many games have voice chat abilities or in-game chat boxes, there is a possibility of unacceptable contact from other players. Both you and your child should be familiar with the "report" and "block" features so that you or they can easily report problematic behaviors. Encourage your child to inform you of toxic behavior and start a conversation about what is and isn't appropriate to say while playing online. Parents can also pre-emptively avoid potentially troubling behavior by muting voice chat and/or limiting the use of a headset. There are also some parental control settings that allow parents the ability to make "white lists" which keep track of who your child is permitted to play with. 
  • Taking Breaks: Everyone from children to adults should remember to get up and walk or take a technology break. This is important in order to prevent potential future issues like carpal tunnel syndrome or eye fatigue. Fortunately, most parental controls offer the ability to manage the amount of time your kids can spend playing games. Some even let you create different parameters every day, allowing for more homework time during the week and more gaming time on the weekends. Include your children in a discussion about balanced gaming such as when to play and for how long. 
The list above only shows a few ways to stay safe while playing video games. By setting up a healthy environment at home and having an open conversation about tools and resources, you will help your children create safe online spaces.

This is the first article in a series of posts about eSports. The ESRB is a member company of the Family Online Safety Institute.