by Leah Nieman
Every day it seems like there is another online game popping up as the “next big thing” – at least according to tweens. It really is a lot of fun to play online games with people around the world. Most of those people are decent human beings, just looking to have some fun as well.
However, it’s hard to avoid the less scrupulous individuals who are up to no good, leaving parents wondering how to make sure teens and tweens are safe when online gaming.
Though it seems like the easiest way to keep kids safe is to just pull the plug and disallow online gaming, our children need to learn how to navigate the online world in a safe way. By talking early and often about how to recognize predatory behavior, what to do to protect themselves, and how to keep their computers and personal information secure, we’re giving them knowledge that they will need down the road.
Here are a few important tips that can help you start the conversation about safe online gaming.
USE SECURE PASSWORDS
Setting hard-to-crack passwords is important for everyone, including teens and tweens who are playing games online. Instruct them to use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols that would be hard to guess. Be sure you have a copy of their passwords, so you can check in on their accounts periodically for suspicious messaging and activity. Better yet, use a secure password generator. My favorite is LastPass.
AVOID USING PERSONAL PICTURES
Be sure your child never uses a personal photo or something that is personally identifiable when setting an avatar or in personal messages. Instead, use something less conspicuous like an image of a character they like or choose a default image, as offered by the gaming software.
CHECK PROFILE DETAILS
Review gaming profiles and be sure that no personal information is being displayed. This includes real name, age, location, and other identifying information. Take care that usernames also are very generic in nature. Be creative with names but without using initials, birthdates, or other personal information.
LEARN BLOCK AND REPORT PROCEDURES
Just about every online gaming platform has a “block and report” feature to alert moderators to trouble. If someone is bullying, making inappropriate comments, or attempting to get personal information from you, do not respond. Instead, screenshot the activity in case you need the proof later, then block and report the user through the proper channels.
USE VOICE CHANGER FEATURES
Many games have a chat feature, which can be fun to use. However, you’ll want to have your teens use a voice changer feature on their headset or mic to maintain their privacy. Remind them that rules about personal information apply, as well as blocking and reporting those who make inappropriate comments and requests.
AVOID USING WEBCAMS
Using a webcam when online gaming is simply unsafe, no matter how you slice it. Unless they are only playing with people they know in real life, such as school friends or far away family, it is a best practice to not use this feature at all.
PROTECT YOUR COMPUTER
Finally, make sure that you have effective antivirus and malware protection installed on your computer before allowing your teens and tweens to play online games. Even the most careful players can sometimes be duped into downloading an unsafe file and putting their system or information at risk. Update and scan regularly to make sure that your computer stays safe.
Allowing teens and tweens to enjoy the freedom of online gaming can be scary, but knowledge is the best defense. Parents should take precautions and educate their children on how to stay safe online and the consequences that could happen if safety procedures aren’t followed.
Leah Nieman has been speaking to parents and teens about technology, social media, and parenting for the past 10 years. She’s a popular speaker who offers sessions, advice, and resources so parents can raise kids with a healthy perspective of technology and social media. You can find her eBooks Connected: Apps All Parents Should Know, Quick Guide to Parental Controls for Kindle, and Connected: A Parent’s Guide to Snapchat, as well as tips on technology and social media at leahnieman.com.