Game on! Staying safe (and appropriate) during online play

CyberSavvyKid #1 has grown into quite the game enthusiast in the last year.  It’s been long a journey, actually.  It all started around the wee age of four for CSK#1.  He had one of those Leapster gaming units with the little cartridges for Star Wars math, etc.  So cute!  I remember beaming with pride – both at myself and at CSK – as he played and learned at the same time. How clever!

From there we moved onto a Nintendo DS. And I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of disappointment that a lot of the education was now lost. But it was still a simpler time as CSK dragged his gaming device with him everywhere and was content with it, as he had yet to discover the world of online gaming.

Around the age of seven, we started using age-appropriate online gaming forums. Club Penguin and Pop Tropica were favorites for several years. And while I knew it was time for CSK to start understanding the risks of interacting with others online, I felt comfortable letting him use the child-geared sites with the understanding that I would be monitoring him regularly.

Now we’ve moved up a few years in age and so has our taste in online games. CSK is on Minecraft – a lot. And Minecraft (if you are not familiar with it) is a game that can involve interacting with other anonymous online players. When he is playing on his iPod, he wants access to all manner of gaming apps – many of which I say no to because they are rated 17+. Friends, it is often a struggle. A battle of wits, if you will – and it exhausts me.

CSK knows that, despite his pleas, I will not allow him to purchase and play games that are not age appropriate. CSK knows that even if (insert friend’s name here)’s mom allows him to play it, that I still will not.  This is about more than just the swears, violence and mild nudity that comes with many of the 17+ games. It is about an elementary school kid playing a game that deals in adult themes (Grand Theft Auto anyone?) that he is far too young to understand right now. This is about keeping him in the “Kid Zone” for as long as I can.  There will be time for 17+ games in the future.  And, if I can stick to my guns that long, I hope it will be when CSK turns 17.

For now, here are some other tips from (the National Cyber Security Alliance) for keeping kids of all ages as safe as possible while gaming online:

Keep a Clean Machine:

Gaming systems are computers with software that needs to be kept up‐to‐date (just like your PC, laptop, phone or tablet). Security protections are built‐in and updated on a regular basis. Take time to make sure all the online gaming devices in your house have the latest protections.

-Keep security software current: Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.

-Protect all devices that connect to the Internet: Computers, smart phones, gaming systems, and other web‐ enabled devices all need protection from viruses and malware.

Protect Your Child’s Personal Information

-Talk to your children about what constitutes personal information. Children need to know what is appropriate to share and what is not. Names, birthdays, age, geographic location, contact information, and photos with identifiable information all count as personal information. While it’s fun to engage in games with players from around the globe, children should retain a level of anonymity to protect themselves from those who might not have the best intentions.

– Secure your kids’ accounts: Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you play games on that site.

– Make passwords long and strong: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password.

-Help your kids own their online presence: When available, set their privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing. Remind them that it’s ok to limit how and with whom they share information.

-Have your kids use an avatar rather than an actual picture of themselves.

-Use voice chat safely or not at all. If your kids play a game that features live voice chat, make sure they disguise their voice. If the game does not have this feature, do not let them use voice chat.

Be Web Wise

-Stay informed of the latest Internet developments, know what to do if something goes wrong and be aware of what your kids are doing online.

– Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online. Check trusted websites for the latest information, share with your children, and encourage them to be web wise.

– Think before you act: Teach your kids to be wary of communication that implores them to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information. They should not accept downloads from strangers. This includes cheat programs that may claim to help them perform better in the game, but really could be carrying malware.

-Know how to block and/or report a cyberbully. Keep a record of the conversation if they are being harassed and encourage them not to engage the bully.

-Read and understand the ratings for the games that your children are playing. Some game sites have multiple games with different ratings, so check all of them.

– Participate in the game with your kids.

Be a Good Online Citizen

-It is easy to say things from behind a computer screen that you would never say face to face. Remind your kids to maintain the same level of courtesy online as they would in the real world.

-Safer for me more secure for all: What you and your kids do online has the potential to affect everyone – at home, at work and around the world. Practicing good online habits benefits the global digital community.

-Be respectful of other players. Playing games has always been a ripe setting for engaging in conversation that can provoke other players. Online gaming should be a place where good sportsmanship is practiced.


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