Five ways to keep children's online gaming safe
Lisa Salmon discovers how kids can look after themselves and respect others when playing online games.
ONLINE games have been crucial for many children and young people over the last two years, connecting them with friends they couldn't see face-to-face, and serving as a much-needed release from the stress of the pandemic.
But as well as connecting them with friends, kids also play online with strangers, which can be risky. And even when their fellow gamers have no sinister ulterior motives, the heightened emotions felt during gaming can lead to young gamers saying and doing things they may not say and do in real life, which can cause upset.
Research by the UK Safer Internet Centre (saferinternet.org.uk) found nearly three-quarters of young people questioned reported someone being mean or nasty during an online game, seeing someone cheat or falling out with a friend when playing online.
And while 66 per cent of parents have worried about their child meeting someone 'bad' through online games, more than a third of young people say they'd be likely to block someone if things went wrong during an online game, and 16 per cent report quitting an online game completely, when they've come into contact with a mean person or negative comments.
Will Gardner of the UK Safer Internet Centre has put together these tips to help children, young people and parents better understand how to play games safely.
1. Always be kind and respectful to others online
"Remember, what you do, say and share online can have a big impact on the way other people feel, as well as how others perceive you," says Gardener.
"When emotions are high, take a moment to reflect and continue when you're feeling calmer. Online games are fun, but we need to consider other people's feelings when playing."
2. Respect other people's boundaries
Gardner stresses that "no means no", and online gamers should never push other people to do something they're not comfortable with. "If someone's pressuring you online, remember you can always say no and tell an adult you trust," he says.
3. Seek help
One of the most important things to do if you're not sure about something during an online game, is to seek help and advice from a trusted family member or friend.
"The internet is a resource to enjoy and learn from, but be cautious of anything or anyone you're not 100 per cent comfortable with or confident about," Gardner says. "Speaking to someone is the first step in getting support and moving forward."
4. Talk together without judgment
Gardner stresses parents are essential in ensuring children play and connect with others safely, and explains: "It's important to ask questions and take an interest in what your child enjoys online. An essential part of having this open dialogue is not to judge, even if their behaviour or life online isn't what you wanted or expected. This ensures your child feels they can come to you if they make a mistake or experience a problem online."
5. Parents should seek help and support too
Just as young people are encouraged to talk about what they're unsure of, parents should ensure they discuss any issues too.
"Chances are you'll find other parents who are trying to figure out how to help their family amid negative and potentially harmful experiences, within online games," says Gardner.
He says there are lots of organisations which will support parents and children if something goes wrong online, including the Report Harmful Content website (reportharmfulcontent.com), which can assist with reporting issues such as cyberbullying, impersonation and threats to online service providers. Childnet's Need Help page (childnet.com/get-help) can help too.