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Play Smart Stay Safe 

Many kids spend hours in the online gaming world. While there are many benefits to safe and responsible gaming, there are some important things to be aware of.

Establish time limits and regular breaks

Between smartphones, tablets and laptops, and gaming consoles, children and teens are consuming many hours of screen time each day. There are some very good reasons why a good balance of time online and offline should be maintained.

  • Excessive screen time can impact on sleep patterns. Extended time absorbing artificial light at night can affect the natural body rhythms and hormones such as melatonin.
  • Social activity can continue well into the night and is very stimulating for the brain making it difficult for children to settle into ways to prepare their body for sleep.
  • There have been a number of studies linking excessive time online (in particular gaming and social networking) with loneliness and anxiety.

With all that said, children that play age appropriate games for only an hour a day are not negatively impacted. Make time offline for your children to spend time with friends, their favourite sports and other activities.

Check age ratings and make sure games are age appropriate

App store games are self-rated. Have a thorough read of the content and themes.
The average age of online gamers is currently 32 years old. Yep, that’s right! It’s not just child’s play. Appropriate content for a 32 year old is not appropriate content for children. While they play, they talk. Do you know what conversations are taking place that your children are listening to or are involved in?

Not all games are created equal

For some children weapons and violence hold a special fascination, especially for boys. We all played cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians, or our brothers did. The difference between role-play and online play in this instance is the graphic nature of the play, its intensity, addictive nature of the game (you cannot just quit when you want to, you need to complete the level or challenge or reach so many tokens) and the extended periods.

This combination has been known to desensitise children to violence. There are many educational and safe online games and much to consider when looking for iPad games for your children.

Firstly, check the rating but don’t stop there. A game may say 4+ in the App Store, but if this is a free game, it is likely to have either In-App purchases or advertising links. Recently, I have found some of the advertisements within 4+ rated games a bit on the questionable side for Primary age students. Too often, they are only a click or two away from inappropriate YouTube content or an unwanted download or purchase!

This is a big reason why Cybersafe Families recommends parents thoroughly test the games they allow for their children. Choose a game that you can purchase with no ads and that does not have In-App purchases. Sometimes the game may need to be downloaded for free first and then you pay to purchase the full version to remove ads. Games with in-app purchases are designed to make it hard to succeed or progress in the game unless you spend more money and it never stops. These games will either hurt your credit card if your iPad parental controls are not active or leave your child feeling disappointed they aren’t progressing.

Here’s a few we have tested and are enjoyed by our children…

  • Minion Rush
  • Fruit Ninja
  • Chesskid
  • Archery Champion 2.0
  • Gladiator Run
  • Tank Hero
  • Angry Birds – varied versions
  • ABCKids

As always, we recommend parents test the games to know they align with their ideals. Please make sure your parent controls are also enabled on the iPad.

Be aware of multi-player options

The Office of the eSafety commissioner released a snippet of survey results from the Youth Digital Participation Survey 2017 that tells us that 64% of children are playing online games with others and 52 % of are playing with people they don’t know.

Know who your child is playing with, sit with them, check their friends list and get involved. Make sure they are only playing with people they know and have met in person. Check the settings on your child’s games to ensure strangers are blocked or restrict chat features through parental controls. Accepting a stranger in an online game is like inviting a stranger into the playroom to hang out with your child.

If your older teen is chatting with other gamers, they must protect their privacy and keep personal information private. Activate privacy settings that are password protected. Children who share too much can put themselves at risk for being targets of grooming.

Be screen aware

Games are available on all screens; phones, tablets, PCs and game consoles and the total screen time can add up. Set firm limits as a family around online gaming time. An hour per day is more than enough for the experience to be a positive one and not enough time to get hooked!

Stay involved

Play online games with your child. Be sure to play to the very end to make sure it is what you are expecting. Watch out for online ads and free games, the content can be inappropriate. Similarly, in-game and in-app purchases can run up large credit card bills. Even if the game is free to download, the player can be required to pay real money to proceed in the game, or get extra tools. You can turn off in-app purchases to safeguard against this

Step into their world, talk to them about it, learn about what they play and interact with your child while they are playing. This will open the lines of communication should they need your support somewhere down the track

Because of its interactive nature, communicating with others while gaming can sometimes lead to others bullying or behaving badly. If this happens encourage your children not to retaliate or respond and show your child how to block or unfriend them from their players list. Of course, a conversation about showing respect to others is very important.

Online predators are using gaming platforms as a medium for grooming children. Children will chat and play. Over time, predators will build a relationship with a child and find out information about them, perhaps without them even being aware that they are sharing. The aim is to trick the child into believing that they have developed a trusting friendship so that if anything untoward occurs the child will feel a loyalty to them and guilt associated with ‘dobbing’ on their new friend. This is frightening but true. The predator’s identity is hidden so the child can be tricked into believing they’re playing with another child of their own age.

Cybersafe Families is a South Australian based, family owned operated business, specialising in Cyber Safety, Education and Counselling.

For further information please visit cybersafefamilies.com or call 1300 206 969.

Facebook: @CyberSafeFamilies

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