Stranger danger in the online world
Our amabassador, Stephanie Brantz who is a sports presenter and mother of 3 children (including 2 teenagers) recently wrote this piece on Stranger Danger in an online world. The piece was also featured on the ABC technology and games site.
My youngest picked up the iPad the other day and started watching her favourite Sesame Street character Elmo singing his mix of positive, feel-good themes. At least that’s what I thought. Noticing a frown on my daughter’s face, I listened more carefully and realised someone had re-recorded the video with an expletive-laden soundtrack in an attempt at humour.
As parents, we need to pay attention to what our children are doing online because sometimes things aren’t always as they seem. One recent news report highlighted the discovery of sexual predators using multi-player online games to groom young victims. Predators
were found to be offering gaming cheats or credits to young people in exchange for sexualised images of the child, personal information or requests to meet in person.
The news report reminded me of the lessons my parents taught me about “stranger danger”’; never go with someone you don’t know, no matter how friendly they might be or what they tell you. And the same principles of ‘stranger danger’ apply in the online world. Children need to understand that not every virtual elf necessarily has the good of the realm at heart – and as parents, there are a number of things we can do to ensure our children are kept safe online while still being able to enjoy video games:
The first step is to talk to your children.
Be supportive and positive, listen and take their feelings into account. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about that can go a long way. I try not to wait for my own children to start the conversation, but instead use everyday opportunities to talk about how to act appropriately online. My children know that if they do experience cyber-bullying and harassment in a gaming environment, they are to let me know right away so I can block further contact and report their concerns to the game’s staff or in worse case scenarios, the police.
Draw a set of rules to demonstrate what acceptable online behavior is and what is not.
One golden rule in my household is if you wouldn’t say it to their face; don’t say it online or by text message. This not only applies in multi-player games, but also in chat rooms or on social media sites where the back-and-forth of schoolyard ribbing can get out of hand. I remember when my oldest first started playing video games, it was hard for him to understand that behind a silly username or an avatar is a real person, with feelings and motives – and it’s important to treat him or her just like you would anyone else.
Make sure your children always use nicknames, usernames or gamer tags instead of their real names.
The less personal information your child volunteers online the safer they will be. This is especially important with passwords; they should only be shared with parents, never friends. And if they keep online friends as online only, then there is less physical risk.
Keep the computer or video game console in a common room.
We keep our computer and gaming console in the living room so that my husband and I can see and listen to what our children are playing at all times. It may be also worth installing “spysoftware” which monitors what your children are doing and saying online.
Finally, as parents, we need to take the time to familiarise ourselves with the sites our kids visit and only let them play games from reputable sites.
These sites are less likely to give your machine malware problems or abuse your personal information. As a personal rule, I make
sure to conduct some extra research – such as talking to other parents or reading online reviews – before allowing my children to play a certain game. All the latest gaming consoles and PC games also offer parental control features to help parents restrict what kind of games your child can play, and for how long – and these features are an important line of defense in enabling children to play games safely.
There are numerous places parents can search for information and resources with regard to online safety. As a starting point try: