The specific concerns parents have about gaming are very similar to the overall issues parents have with regard to technology: time spent, interaction with strangers, and inappropriate content. Some of the top games kids are playing include: Fortnite, Rocket League, NBA 2K18, Madden (NFL and Mobile), FIFA, Super Mario Odyssey, Star Wars Battlefront II, Clash of Clans, Trivia Crack, Minecraft and Call of Duty. Most games for Android, iOS, Xbox, PS4 and others have an interactive component. This means kids can join up with friends (or strangers) to play together. So what can parents do to address their concerns? Parents can empower themselves to take the lead in online safety instruction. Following are my top 5 tips for parents to get started.
Keep an Open Dialogue
First, I tell parents the most important action they can take is to talk to their kids. Ask them about the games they are playing. Learn what the goals of the game are, how it is played and try to get your child to verbalize the skills needed to succeed. Don’t be judgmental or dismissive about their game playing. Keep an open mind and try to understand the attraction to the games they like to play. Video games are an important part of socializing today for kids so part of the draw is the ability to play and to discuss strategies with friends. Plus, gaming helps kids to develop digital, cooperative and problem solving skills that they will need for future success.
Use Resource Guides
Next, educate yourself with the age ratings and guides available. Use resources like the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings guide or Common Sense Media. These resources will help you to make an informed decision about what games are allowed in your home. Mobile gaming can be a bit trickier as the Age Rating in the iOS and Android App Stores can conflict with the actual intended and appropriate audience suggestion. For both mobile and console games, you need to know what content may be inappropriate but you also need to be aware of any interactive elements of the game such as a players ability to interact with others, sharing of personal or location information and in-app purchases. It’s best to do some research ahead of time so you are ready to explain to your kids the reasoning behind the game restriction decisions you have made. For example, you may allow them to play a game, but only connect with an approved list of friends.
Set Parental Controls
The tech industry has responded to concerns for child safety with parental controls and settings virtually across the board. Gaming systems like PS4, Xbox and Wii have customization options for limiting game playing time, approval of online friend requests and which ESRB-rated games are allowed for each user. You can also set restrictions for downloading games across the gaming systems and other digital devices like tablets and smartphones.
Set Ground Rules
Discuss and set the game playing rules up front. Whatever your rules may be (for example no gaming before homework is complete, no gaming after 9pm, no in-app purchases, no rated M games) make sure you agree to the terms with your kids before a new game is handed over. Be sure to listen to your kids when deciding on these limits as well. Some games are so complicated or require collaboration with other friends who are also connected, so a 30 minute time limit may not be enough time for them to set up the game, (connect, choose player options, locations, team members, etc) and also play with friends. Be sure to discuss appropriate behavior during game playing as well. Whether they are connecting with friends or are paired with random players, make sure they understand you expect them to be respectful in the gaming environment, and to watch any inappropriate language! If anyone is disrespectful towards them be sure to let them know how to block or mute that player.
Play with Your Kids
You are likely going to lose, but… try the game. Show your child you are interested in what they are playing and you want to understand their interest. You may not be the most challenging opponent, but you’ve made the effort to understand why they like to play.
You should also note that kids are searching YouTube and apps like Twitch to watch and share videos of popular gamers, high scores, game tricks and strategies. Some of the videos can contain questionable language, so be prepared.
Parenting today’s digitally connected kids can be challenging. But you can do it! It’s not unlike parenting itself. Take one step at a time, tap in to helpful resources, learn as you go and be present.
Bio: Denise Lisi DeRosa founded Cyber Sensible in 2015. She is an experienced media professional with an M.A. in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University. Denise brings her background in traditional, new and social media, her education, and her personal experience raising tech savvy kids to her work as she encourages parents, teens, educators, athletes and young professionals to manage their online lives toward success and well-being. Learn more at Cyber-Sensible.com and follow Cyber Sensible on Facebook and Twitter for her latest advice and thoughts on digital trends.