Today’s children have no idea about what life was like without a cell phone. The ability to contact anyone, anywhere, anytime is a part of everyday life. It makes life easier, saves time, accesses help quickly, helps parents find their children, etc. At the same time that cellphones were becoming a constant companion, so have video games.
Video games in the last several decades have advanced from a single computer to multiplayer games online. Multiplayer games mean than more than one person can play in the same environment at the same time. It could be in within a local area network or a wide area network, most commonly the internet. These are known as massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) which let people play with, talk to and message with others live on the game’s network.
Healthychildren.org discusses the risks and benefits of multiplayer online games. MMOs can give a child experience with cooperation and teamwork. They can also be a good way to socialize and build relationships with friends and can be enjoyed playing together as a family. However it can also be an opportunity for strangers to be a danger.
Parents need to discuss how to be safe on line over and over as the games become more complicated and more unknown people have access to your child. There are primarily two broad areas that can get young people in trouble. Hackers and con artist can introduce malware, viruses, cause identity theft, sell fraudulent material, take over accounts, etc. Scarier is the possibility of cyberbullying and possible grooming and luring young people to other networks and potentially dangerous situations. Stranger danger is real.
Suggested conversations for parents with their children are suggested as follows:
- which friends and family members they’re allowed to play with
- Why they should only play online with people they know and avoid strangers
- Why it’s important not to share personal information online with anyone
- How to enable privacy settings to stop strangers from contacting them (for older kids and teens)
- How to delete or block people on their contact lists
- That it is OK to talk with their parent if something bad happens during the game
- To let you know if a stranger contacts them or if they feel bullied by other players
- Why they should never meet with someone they only “know” online in the real world.
Healthychildren.org also recommends Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/) which has detailed game reviews for parents that looks at the subjects and skills the game enhances and rate features such as educational content, violence, language and sex.
Keep the conversations going by asking children what games they like and why, ask who they are gaming with and if any stranger has contacted them, keep the device they are using in a room with plenty of traffic such as the family room and be aware of the games’ content and use parental control.
Stranger danger is real, candy or not.
by Sally Robinson, MD Clinical Professor
Keeping Kids Healthy