Norton UK Blog
How to Keep Your Kids Safe While Gaming
Most kids love playing online games. No surprise there – they’re fun, entertaining, encourage creativity and are often educational. They’re great to play with existing friends, and offer the opportunity to make new ones too. Online games allow kids to chat to and play with or against an enormous number of other players anywhere in the world, across all borders of time, language, geography, age and culture.
Unfortunately, gaming is also enormously appealing to hackers and others of ill repute, and holds privacy and security risks that need to be faced. It’s therefore important for you and your children to identify and understand these risks, and learn how to handle them. Following the practical tips below will help you and your kids to have some age-appropriate and safe fun while gaming online.
Gaming is big business – and going mobile
Online gaming is an enormous market both in terms of size and value – and it’s booming. According to the UK Entertainment Retailers Association, the market for video games grew by 7.5 per cent in 2014, making up 43 per cent of the total entertainment market of £5.7bn.
Digital games have grown by 19 per cent since 2013, accounting for £1.5bn in a total games software market of £2.5bn. Newzoo estimated the UK to be the fifth largest video game market in consumer revenues in 2014.
Recent Ofcom research indicates that gaming on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones is on the increase in children aged 5 to 15 in the UK, shifting away from games played on consoles, laptops/PCs and via the television. The same report shows that children are increasingly playing against people they don’t know personally.
According to the UK Internet Advertising Bureau, the average 8- to 15-year-old gamer spends 20 hours a week gaming, compared to 11 hours for gamers aged 16 and over.
What are the risks?
Being aware of the potential dangers is an important step to safe gaming. Risks include:
- Infection by viruses, worms and other malware. Unregulated file-sharing sites can be a haven for malware – so gamers searching such sites for time-saving tips and cheats/shortcuts are putting their devices at risk of infection.
- Malware may hide in email, text or file attachments or in instant messages. Your child might also be lured into visiting a compromised web page that could install ‘drive-by’ malware on their device.
- Unwanted contact from people with ulterior motives. Online games often allow gamers to chat with each other verbally, through instant messaging or in chat rooms. This communication is great for swapping information with friends and forming tactics and strategies.
- Unfortunately, social interaction can also be a way for unscrupulous people to ‘befriend’ players – posing as bona fide members of the gaming community, or as friends, or even relatives. They aim to win your child’s trust and find out personal information about them, perhaps try to arrange a meeting in person, or target them for a scam.
- Inappropriate content/bad language. This can be in the form of content created by other players as well as content within the game itself – so even if your child is playing an age-appropriate game, other gamer-created content may exceed that age suitability.
- Coming across bullies and aggressive gamers.
- Financial risks – your child may either knowingly or unwittingly be persuaded to part with their money – or yours. Many games allow and encourage players to buy more content from directly within the game or via the console, either with real or virtual currency.
- Risk of your child’s location being revealed. Some mobile games and apps may broadcast a gamer’s location to others.
How can you reduce these risks?
1. Protect your devices
Make sure you have a comprehensive security solution installed and keep it up to date. Keep software updated on gaming consoles.
Ensure your kids have strong passwords for any gaming accounts they create, and that they know to keep them secret.
2. Talk to your kids
Make your children aware of the potential dangers posed by online gaming. Help them learn to identify, assess and deal with these risks. Explain why it’s important to:
- Think before they act. Talk about the risks of revealing personal information such as their real name, age, location, school, or their account passwords. Make sure your child uses an avatar rather than a photo of themselves, and that their chosen gamer names are appropriate and don’t give away anything personal about them.
- Tell you or another trusted adult straight away if they or their friends are being bullied, or if they encounter something or someone that makes them uncomfortable. Reassure them that they won’t lose game time or be otherwise punished by confiding in you.
- Question the truth of everything they hear or see online. Make them aware that someone who talks to them online may give false information about their identity, their age, gender and intentions. Explain that people whom they meet online are really strangers, and that they must never agree to meet online friends in person without your permission.
- Avoid illegal downloads and file-sharing sites, which can carry a high risk of malware. Use legitimate sites and services to buy games. Pirated copies of games may also contain malware.
- Respect themselves by protecting their online reputation and being careful what they share about themselves. It’s important that they realise how what they do and say online can affect not only themselves, but others too.
- Be aware of how they might be encouraged or tricked into spending money.
3. Join in
Get involved with gaming. Ask your children to show you the games they like playing, and how to play them. Familiarise yourself with their content, and with the type of communication they allow with other gamers.
Find out who your kids play with and who they talk to while gaming. If possible, keep an eye/ear on the subject matter, the type of language used and the tone of the conversation.
If you’re new to gaming and struggling to understand its appeal to your youngsters, you might find this Guardian article helpful.
Another good source of advice is the UK games industry-funded askaboutgames.com.
4. Check age suitability
Pan European Game Information (PEGI) age ratings and content icons are there to help you decide what is suitable for your child. PEGI has five age categories, from age 3 to 18. The eight content icons indicate game content such as bad language, violence, references to drugs or sex, and whether the game has an online mode.
You can also find out about suitability of specific games by reading online game reviews.
5. Read the terms of play
6. Set time limits
Games – being largely goal-driven and rewarding – can be so engrossing that homework gets forgotten, the dog doesn’t get walked and sleep takes second place to the next all-important game mission. Before that happens, step in and set guidelines. Be firm but calm.
Encourage regular screen breaks.
7. Use parental controls
You can choose what games your children play and restrict gaming time by setting parental controls. This is different for each console or device, but instructions for the main ones can be found on askaboutgames.com here.
You can also disable location sharing on certain devices, and block in-app purchases.
8. Done with your device? Delete
If you’re getting rid of your child’s console or gaming device – selling it, recycling it or giving it away – delete their personal account details. The way to do this varies between devices, so search the relevant online support pages for instructions.
If you want to keep your child’s game progress, avatars or profile, move them to the new console/device. Again, check the online support information.
Stay ahead of the game
There’s a whole lot of fun and games to be had online, for both you and your kids.
Like any online activity, gaming has its risks. But if you act on the tips above – helping your children to recognise, evaluate and handle the potential privacy and security risks posed – you’ll help make gaming a safer experience for the whole family and encourage your kids to have some serious fun!
If your family are tech crazy or have simply invested in a new smartphone, PC or tablet, we've a handy eBook to download to guide you on how best to protect your new device.
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