As Online Gaming Grows As A Way For Kids To Socialise - Find Out How Parents Can Make Sure They're Playing Safely

28/06/2017 14:51

Gaming. When my generation was growing up, we'd be lucky to get to play for an hour or two on an Atari, or ZX Spectrum (and that includes the time it took to load a game!); the super fast generation of games consoles were still a twinkle in Super Mario's eye.

With those big heavy boxes, sticky joysticks and miles of tangled wires, many parents will remember how playing on a games console in the eighties was often just as much a physical challenge as it was technological.

Fast forward 30 years and kids are gaming more than ever. The average child aged between 12 and 15 in 2016 spent nearly 13-and-a-half hours a week* playing on the latest weird and wonderful games. That is nearly 90 minutes more than the previous year. And we'd be kidding ourselves to say this will not continue to increase.

Meanwhile, the rise in online gaming means that it has for many become the new way of socialising. There are now popular online platforms such as Steam which enable kids to access games on their devices, and communities such as Twitch where they can swap notes with other gamers.

Games consoles such as the Xbox One and the PS4, are a world away from their predecessors, opening up a multitude of online activities. One mum recently told us how she left her 11-year-old girl alone to play on her XBox and was startled to find her talking over a headset to a grown man in Germany "who had become her friend" on the particular game she was plugged into.

It is more important than ever that parents move with the times and make sure their children are safe when they are gaming and understand not only the capabilities of the device or console you have bought them, but their online capabilities.

For example - and not wanting to unnecessarily scare other parents - Pornhub's latest figures** found that 53% of their traffic from games consoles came from PlayStation; 34% from Xbox and 7% from Nintendo Wii.

A survey carried out by Internet Matters this year*** showed how 61% of nine to 16 year olds took part in online gaming - with 12 being the most popular age.

Out of those who are gaming, nearly half (48%) play online games via a smartphone app such as Clash of the Clans or Minecraft. 47% played on Xbox Live and 30% on Playstation Plus.

While 41% of parents worried the amount of time spent gaming was having a detrimental effect to their child's health, their main concerns with their children online gaming included talking to strangers, hearing inappropriate language, grooming, sharing personal information and cyberbullying.

There are some simple things parents can do right away to help protect their children.

Have a conversation with them to find out what games they like to play, how they work and gently ask questions about who they play with online, who they meet and talk to, and if they're using live chat or talking to other players via in-game communications platforms.

Show them how they can report abusive chat and exclude anti-social players should they come across it. Check that the games they are using are age appropriate - like films, all games have their own official age classification known as a PEGI rating, which appears on the box.

Teach your children to protect themselves - remind them not to share personal information and to keep gaming friends in the game only rather than adding them to their other social networks.

Make sure you and your family agree what games can be played and that children understand why some games are allowed and others aren't. Agree how long they're allowed to play for.
Especially for younger children, change the settings on your tablet or smartphone to 'airplane' mode. That way, they can play the game offline without making accidental purchases or connecting with someone they don't know.

Read each game's advice for parents and play the game yourself to help you understand more about how the game your child is playing works and its appropriateness.

Use our interactive guide to parental controls to find out more about keeping your children safe when they're online gaming.

For more information about how to keep your children safe online go to internetmatters.org

*Ofcom's Children and parents: media use and attitudes report, November 2016.
** Pornhub's 2016 Year in Review, January 2017.
***Internet Matters survey of 2,000 parents, May 2017.

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