Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
Does your child play multiplayer online games like Minecraft or World of Warcraft? They’re not alone: According to a recent McAfee study, 62 percent of kids play games where they speak to other people online. Some of these people will be their friends playing the same games, but many are complete strangers.
While the vast majority of gamers don’t have any malicious intent, by contrast, hackers, scammers, or even sexual predators will happily use and exploit your child’s naivety and inexperience to take advantage of them. Cybercriminals often exploit young gamers by pretending to be someone they know, or by being overly helpful and friendly. Once the scammer gains your child’s trust, they can send them malicious links, instruct them to download virus-laden programs, or simply ask for sensitive information, such as account usernames and passwords.
There are other ways cybercriminals can take advantage of children, or even parents playing video games. In early 2018, over 50,000 Minecraft accounts were affected with malware when malicious skins were downloaded on users’ computers. This attack is particularly alarming because it could have fooled anyone, regardless of age, because the skins were available on the official Minecraft site. There was no way of distinguishing a legitimate download from a malicious one.
Another serious concern of online gaming is that your child can be exposed to harsh language, bullying or inappropriate material without your knowledge. Most parents limit what games their child plays based on ESRB Ratings. While this rating system gives you an idea of what the publisher includes in the game, it doesn’t protect your child from another online gamer.
If you allow your child to play games online, consider following these guidelines to prevent viruses from infecting your system and, more importantly, so as to avoid cyberbullies and predators.
Talk to your child about online safety. Before downloading a game for your child, have an age-appropriate conversation about the dangers of playing games with strangers. This should be an ongoing conversation you have with your child that evolves as your child matures.
Set hard ground rules. The first rule you should set is asking for permission before purchasing or downloading anything to your phone, computer or game console. If you find content you didn’t download, take gaming privileges away for a specific amount of time. It’s important to set these rules at a young age and manage them as your child ages. This goes hand-in-hand with managing your child’s device usage.
Encourage them not to talk to strangers online. You can avoid your child interacting with online strangers by purchasing games that don’t offer online multiplayer support until they are old enough to really understand the risks. Once your child is old enough to play such online games, urge them not to communicate with strangers off of the gaming platform.
Limit their screen time. Balance your child’s online gaming with other activities, such as playing board games with the family, using art and craft supplies and reading books. There are plenty of other activities that can capture your child’s interest, so consider a hard limit on how much time they spend playing video games. You can manage how much time they spend gaming by limiting your child’s screen time altogether.
With all of the proper boundaries and guidelines set in place, you can better rest assured that your child is in a safer position while they play games. You can even use gaming safety as a lesson to prevent your child from getting tricked or harassed on online dating sites when they’re older.