How to protect your kids when online
Raising children in the age of the internet is challenging. But online gaming has positives as well as negatives - read on to find out how to keep your kids safe online.
Oh, how simple it must have been to parent before the internet. I jest - of course, parenting has always been tough - but there is some truth in the fact that it’s difficult to make sure that our children are adequately protected in an online world that didn’t exist, or was in its very primitive stages, when we were growing up ourselves. Online gaming, though sometimes disparaged, plays an important role in many children’s lives - it can help them to develop problem-solving skills, allow them to stay in touch with friends and family and, perhaps most importantly, it’s a genuine source of enjoyment. The challenge lies in how to keep children safe while they’re playing online - and how to stop them from accidentally spending all of your money.
Make sure you have a basic understanding of every game they play
The easiest way to assess the suitability of a game your child wants to play is to get to know it a little yourself. Get them to show you how it’s played and have a go yourself, and make sure that you understand all of the ways that the game - and therefore your child - interacts with the world at large and with other people. This should allow you to assess the suitability overall and flag any concerns before your child gets too invested.
You should also do a bit of research into the monetisation of the game - what your child might want or need to spend money on in order to progress in the game, how much the different packages etc cost, so that you can set reasonable limits and spot when something’s amiss.
Use the parental controls
Most online games have parental control settings, so familiarise yourself with them, and use them with abandon. Explain to your child what limitations you are putting in place and why, and answer any questions they might have.
You might want to limit who they can communicate with, mute the voice chat in case of inappropriate language, place a time limit per session or per day, or create a spend limit for them. It’s also worth reviewing these parental controls every now and again, as new features in the game might mean that you need to tighten the boundaries a little.
Talk to your child
It’s a really good idea to get your child on board with your plan to keep them safe, and explain the reasons why you’re doing the things you’re doing. Make sure that they know why it’s important for them not to speak to people they don’t know - and especially not to share personal or financial details with them.
You can also talk them through the game’s coin or currency system, explaining how much real money each unit equates to, how much of their pocket money or allowance different packages would eat up etc. This is an important step in enabling them to spend their own money and self-regulate long into the future, especially as so much of our money is now spent online and ‘invisibly’ in some way or another. You should make yourself available to discuss their online spending decisions with them, too - it’s a valuable forum for educating your child about money in a context they can understand.
Don’t store or save bank or card details
It’s a really good idea not to save or store your card or account details on any platform you don’t 100% know and trust. Under current rules banks are obliged to pay you back any money stolen through fraud or identity theft. However, they do have the right to refuse a claim if they find you were ‘grossly negligent.’ Ensure you password protect any stored details on mainstream accounts like Apple, Nintendo or Microsoft. This will mean that your child will automatically have to seek your permission any time they want to make a purchase, and you will need to enter your password or passcode to allow it, meaning that you can check the amount etc first.
An alternative option is to have a prepaid debit card that you use exclusively for your child’s online gaming, set a monthly budget or allowance for them to spend, and top it up by that much each month. Again, this allows your child to self-regulate their spending, and make their own decisions - it also means they will have to live with the consequences of spending their full allowance straight away, which will help them to learn valuable lessons about real life money management.
Make sure you know who your child is talking to
Scammers can be very skilled at getting information out of young people, so try to make sure that your child isn’t in contact with anyone who you don’t know. Keep in touch with the parents of any children they are playing with or speaking to online, so that you can keep tabs and pick up on anything that doesn’t feel right.
If you notice your child behaving differently at all, especially just before or after they’ve been gaming, communicate with them and make sure that nothing they’ve seen, heard or had said to them is upsetting them or making them feel uneasy.
Set boundaries you are comfortable with
It’s up to you how much time and money you allow your child to spend on online gaming - there’s no right or perfect way to do it and every parent will have different ideas about what is best. Try to understand that this is important to your child - a legitimate hobby that may cost money from time to time, just as any other hobby might - but it’s also important that you understand enough about how it all works to feel comfortable and put into place a framework for how your child interacts with the world of online gaming.