Our Education Manager, Claire Patel, provides parents with some key safeguarding information to help parents keep their children safe online when gaming.

If you’re like me, the manic lead up to Christmas as a parent has been underway for quite some time already. It seems that the list-writing and the virtual shopping trips start earlier and earlier each year. As for trying to take advantage of some of the great deals you can often bag at this time of year, many parents have given up hope, with Black Friday’s, Tech Tuesdays and Cyber Monday’s hiding around every corner. However, if you have managed to overcome the Christmas preparation fatigue then there are three important things to note ahead of your little ones discarding your decorative wrapping and tearing open their latest digital device.

  1. Safeguarding Controls

Whether it’s a games console, a tablet, a smartphone or any other sort of digital device, if it connects to the internet, there are nearly always safeguarding controls that parents can utilise. Whilst a lot of tech companies now include instructions with each device specifically tailored toward parents, it’s always worth doing 5 minutes of extra research online to find out how to operate the device most effectively. There are even YouTube tutorials available for parents who are looking to protect their children from the content available to them on the internet. Parents can also access YGAM’s ‘Safety Controls Checklist’ on our Parent Hub website: https://parents.ygam.org/gaming-advice/safety-controls-checklist

2. Online chat

Many parents who we speak to as a charity don’t realise the extent of online chat functions and their increasing prevalence in most online gaming / social platforms. Any game that requires access to the internet to play, whether multiplayer or otherwise, usually features a chat function. Sometimes these chat functions are verbal – with players speaking to one another using headsets or microphones. In other cases, the chat function can be text-based and rely on messages being exchanged between players. In the case of verbal communication, some next-generation devices like the PlayStation 5 actually include a built-in microphone in the controller, so even though it may seem that your child cannot communicate with strangers in online lobbies unless the controller is specifically muted or set with parental controls, open communication will be the default setting.

3. Toxic Behaviour

Sadly, online gaming lobbies have become synonymous with toxic behaviour and in many cases have become used by a minority of people as a space to engage in bullying and exchanging abusive language. This issue, which was explored in YGAM’s ‘she plays, he says’ report (the full report can be downloaded here: http://parents.ygam.org/sheplayshesays) can be experienced by anybody, regardless of gender or age. However, information gathered in various surveys and reports shows that women are affected disproportionately by this abuse, which often takes on a misogynistic and exclusionary tone. The key to understanding this behaviour is understanding that in many online communities this is a culture that has developed. This can be hard for children and young people to challenge and even if your child has not been the target of abusive behaviour online, they may be aware of it taking place or even contributing toward it without realising it. It’s important to have conversations with children and young people about their understanding of what is appropriate and what isn’t when engaging with people online. However, there are very few games where online communication is required, so unless your child is playing with their friends/family members, parental controls can be used to ensure no communication is possible between players.

In addition to these 3 key things, further information on safeguarding children whilst online gaming can be found on YGAM’s Parents Hub at www.parents.ygam.org