Dr. Amanda Lovette, Pediatrician at Delta Health Pediatrics
I remember the first moment I realized my boys were playing multi-player video games. It was later in the evening on a Saturday and they were upstairs. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, but I assumed they had friends over because I could hear them talking. I couldn’t hear anyone talking back though so I went upstairs to investigate. I was quite surprised watching their video game activities to realize that they weren’t talking to each other or other kids in the room – they were talking to friends over the video game console and they were actively playing the video game with those friends. Coming from an era of rotary phones and no internet, I was suitably impressed!
Only later as I read about this capability of video games, did I also come across cringe-worthy stories of children being exploited or bullied by this mode of communication. Children love this gameplay and they learn a lot about teamwork and cooperation when they are playing with other gamers. But playing with people who don’t have your child’s best interest at heart is a real risk in this gaming model, so I thought it would be helpful to discuss some tips regarding safety when your child is online:
- It’s important to talk to your child about online safety. You will want to discuss the importance of not giving out full names, addresses, telephone numbers, and other identifying information to online “friends”, especially if your child doesn’t know them in “real life”. Children are very trusting, and they will believe that a person online is who they say they are. It helps to describe these people as strangers, and children should treat them as such, just as they are taught how to deal with strangers in person. Specifically, discuss with your child the importance of not trying to meet a person face-to-face that they only “know” online, no matter how much that person pushes them to do so.
- As a parent, it would be helpful for you to research different games (Common Sense Online, which I mentioned in a prior post, is a great source of information) so that you can not only know what your child will be seeing and hearing in the game but also what parental and privacy controls are available in different games. Utilize these controls to help keep your children safe from online predators. Chats can be disabled in some games, and private access in others is an option, allowing only family and friends to be able to play the game with your child. Setting time limits in some games is also an option to limit exposure to random people your child might be playing with.
- Keep the video game console in an area with lots of foot traffic – you can keep an eye on what your child is playing.
- Ask your child to let you know if any strangers have contacted him on the game and be sure your child knows it is important that he let you know if someone is making him feel uncomfortable, asking for personal information, or wants to meet in person.
- Pick games for your child with his age and maturity in mind. These games often have “safer” environments with limited or no communication between players.
These games can provide hours of fun for your child – but it’s important to take steps to make sure that time is spent safely. For more tips, make sure to join the Healthy Kids Western Slope Facebook Group. You can also call Delta Health Pediatrics to set up an appointment at 970.546.4000.