According to research by Statista, 82% of children aged 12-15 in the UK play online games, but how can you ensure that they are staying safe online gaming?
In this guide, we share some of our top tips to make sure your child can stay safe online, and enjoy the games they are playing.
Whilst this is only a handful of the things to consider for your child, more information about online safety can be found in our Parents and Carers Guide, produced in collaboration with the NSPCC.
Make sure the game is appropriate:
All games that have been published will have a PEGI rating, which states the age group that the contents of the game is most suitable for. The PEGI ratings range from 3 all the way up to 18, and each rating has a list of what is in the games that makes it have that rating – for example, a PEGI 7 has game content with scenes or sounds that could possibly frighten young children, and scenes of mild violence.
If your child is purchasing a game online, there generally is not any form of verification in place to make sure that the game is suitable for them. Therefore, it is important that you check whether or not the game is appropriate for them by looking at the PEGI rating if you are concerned.
In terms of esports titles, there is a wide range of games that cover all of the PEGI ratings and have online capabilities, so double check if you are concerned about your child playing games that are not appropriate.
For a full list of esports titles, and their PEGI ratings, check out our Esports Age Guide.
Check if a game has online chat options:
If you are playing an online multiplayer game, it is almost always going to have an option to chat directly to other people – whether that be through text or an in-game voice chat.
Depending on the age of your child, it is worth discussing the do’s and don’ts for if someone tries to talk to them in these in-game chats. If they are playing with someone they know in person, there will likely not be any issues with what they talk about, and whether or not they use the in-game chat. However, if they are playing with strangers, they need to be aware of the risks that may be presented to them.
The best possible scenario is to avoid communicating in the chats or utilising the ‘stock replies’ that a game can provide to help players communicate without directly talking to each other. Here is an example of this in Rocket League:
But, if this is not possible, it is essential that young people are aware of what they can and shouldn’t do.
- Share callouts and information that is relevant to the game.
- Listen to if other people share callouts or information in the chat or voice channels.
- Leave the voice channel if people start to say inappropriate things, or ask you for information.
- Report any players who are saying inappropriate things, or being abusive in voice or text channels.
- Share ANY personal information (name, age, address, school name, family names, etc).
- Be toxic in the in-game chat or voice chat – this will entice people to send or say horrible things back.
- Share any social media links to your profile, or to someone’s that you know.
- Say the real names of the people you are playing with – just stick to their in-game names if you are in a public chat.
- Speak to or share information with people you don’t know personally.
It is really important to sit down with your child and explain why you should avoid speaking to strangers online. Whether people have malicious intentions or not, it is vital to make sure your child doesn’t say something they are not supposed to. Try and encourage them to play games with friends or people they know in person, but be aware that in online gaming, they are bound to play with people they don’t know. This is perfectly normal for gaming, but young people need to be aware of the signs that could indicate this stranger is doing something they shouldn’t.
Doing these things can make the entire online gaming experience a bit safer, and will also allow your child to understand the correct ways to act online.
Utilise privacy settings in-game:
With most games having these chat functions available, there are settings you can enable in order to reduce the risk of unwanted messages, or inappropriate content showing up.
A lot of games have built-in profanity filters to censor anything that may come up in the text channels, but some games do not have this automatically enabled.
Take Overwatch 2 (PEGI 12) for example, there is an option to enable a profanity filter, but you must go into the settings to turn it on at the level of filter you would like. To enable it, you must go to OPTIONS > SOCIAL > TEXT CHAT > Profanity Filter Options. Here you can select if the game is filtering extremely offensive language, with the exception of a few words (Mature), filtering all offensive words or phrases (Friendly), or completely uncensored (Unfiltered).
The settings can be personalised to the age of the player, but should be utilised by younger players. Either your child can set this up themselves in the settings, or you can check this on their behalf, but it is good practice to get into for any game they might play.
As well as profanity filters, most games and platforms will also allow you to make your profile private – which can be handy for younger gamers. These options can also be found in the settings of the game, and can generally let you choose who the profile is visible to. In most cases, it gives you the options of being completely private (only the player can see it), friends-only (where people on your friends list can see your profile but nobody else), or public (everyone can see it). As with the profanity filters, this differs from game to game, so it is worth investigating what options are available for your child.
Make sure their username does not include personal information:
Whilst it may be tempting to make your in-game username using your real name, this can present many issues, especially for children who are gaming.
If you are allowing your child to create an account, try and help them come up with a fun and unique name out of things that they like – for example something like PizzaLover22. Alternatively, your child might have come up with their own name, but it is worth checking if it is suitable.
Try and get your child to keep their username as broad as possible, and make sure that nothing will allow them to be identified in real life, especially if they are still quite young.
If they are struggling to come up with a name, there are plenty of ‘gaming name generators’ available for free, so try a few of those out with your child and see what you like.
Here are some examples of name generators:
Check if a game has microtransactions or loot boxes:
Something that is becoming more common in online games is the presence of microtransactions, or loot boxes. This means that there are many prompts in-game to try and get the player to spend real money.
Some of the most common things that require real money being spent in a game are:
- Battle passes
- Cosmetics (skins, guns, colours, icons)
- Loot boxes (random chances for the player to get cosmetics)
- In-game currency for spending on items
Loot boxes are essentially virtual boxes that players can purchase or earn through playing, and they can be opened to acquire unknown items within the game. Most of the time, people purchase loot boxes to try and obtain a specific item, but issues begin to arise when players spend a significant amount of real money in order to accomplish this goal.
Whilst a lot of these cosmetics and passes are great additions to the game, they do not affect the ability to play. So, it is worth checking if your child has the intention to do microtransactions, or if they are planning to ask you to purchase them something in-game.
If your child has their own bank account or card, it is worth talking to them about microtransactions, so they don’t spend all of their money on in-game items. Most of the time, they are just for cosmetic purposes, so make sure to talk this through before they spend any money.
If your child is going to be borrowing your bank card, make sure to set up a password protection to authorise purchases, or ensure that the information is not saved. On accident, your child may purchase more things on the card if it is saved to the account, so make sure these safety precautions are enabled before going ahead with anything.
Also, try to create an open environment to discuss spending money in games or online, as this can prevent any large purchases on microtransactions from happening.
Sometimes, there might genuinely be a good skin or cosmetic that your child would like to purchase, and that’s okay! Discuss this with them, and come to a mutual agreement together before making any purchases.
This is only a short list of ways that you can help your child stay safe in online gaming, but there are many resources available to provide further insight.
For more information about esports, and how your child can make the most of online gaming, check out our Parents and Carers Guide, or check out the NSPCC’s guide on how to keep your child safe online.