If your child uses a console to play games, there’s a good chance they’ll be playing online - according to a recent Ofcom report, 58% of 8-11 and 66% of 12-15 year-olds play games over the internet.*
Playing games online can be great fun for your child, but as a parent it’s worth being aware of the potential risks of online gaming and how you can keep your child safe.
Online gaming with Xbox, PlayStation and more
An online game is one where the entire game (or some element) is played over the internet, using an Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch or PC, but also a phone and tablet.
Online gaming allows you to play against people all over the world, in real-time. Games consoles such as the Xbox and the PlayStation have huge online communities - called Xbox Live and PlayStation Network respectively - where gamers talk to each other using headsets.
The majority of modern games have an online mode of some description, the most famous probably being the Call of Duty first-person shooter series. The most popular online game of recent times is Fortnite which has over 250 million users on PC, Xbox, PlayStation and on smartphones.
Online gaming isn’t just based around consoles, however. Facebook has a thriving online gaming community, which allows you to play games such as Farmville and Candy Crush.
The risks of online gaming
1. Cyberbullying: A quarter of 12-15 year-olds admit to talking to people within a game they haven’t met in real life*. The majority of the time, this won't be a problem, but there may be occasions when your child is called names, or cyberbullied by the people they are playing with. ‘Griefing’ is when bullying tactics are used to win games.
2. Online grooming: The anonymity of the internet allows people to hide behind fake identities. Adults may try to develop a relationship with a child by chatting to through an online game that could have dangerous consequences. Internet safety organisation Internet Matters has information about Online grooming.
3. Inappropriate content: If your child plays with older children they may encounter swearing or hear talk about subjects they don’t understand and find upsetting. Many online games feature adult themes such as war, violence, swearing and sexual content that won’t be suitable for every child.
4. Hidden costs: Some online games are free to play, but players can pay to get extra features, which can be enticing for young children. In Fortnite’s Item Shop you can buy outfits, which cost 2000 V-Bucks, which is around £20. In the mobile app Smurfs Village ‘A Barrell of Smurfberries’ costs nearly £24 - if youR child buys it accidentally, you’ll get the bill. Find out more about this in our article What is free to play gaming?
Dangerously Delicious.— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) May 9, 2019
The Bushido and Two Scoops Sets are available in the Item Shop now! pic.twitter.com/ibnQbbN3L8
Tips to keep your children safe
Online gaming has risks, but it can help your child to learn, explore and develop creative skills. If you follow these simple tips you can help them do this safely.
1. Talk to your child: Communicate with your son or daughter about potential dangers online so they understand the risks. If you decide a game is unsuitable for them, explain why you don’t think it’s appropriate they understand your reasoning.
2. Keep information private: Encourage your child not to give out personal details, such as their email, date of birth and address that could be used to locate them. Make sure they use a gamer name (or tag) that doesn’t give too much personal information away, for instance OrangeGremlin is a safer name than Matthew95Bristol. Encourage them to remain friends with other players only within the game, and not on other social networks like Facebook or Instagram.
4. Set restrictions: Decide how long your child is allowed to play online and set a routine. If you have a younger child, consider letting them play in the front room rather in their bedroom so you can keep an eye on what they are playing and who they are talking too.
5. Check game ratings: Games are given an age-appropriate Pan European Gaming Information (PEGI) rating of 3, 7, 12, 16 or 18 that will give you some indication of the suitability for your child. Remember the ages are a guide, you know your son or daughter better than anyone, if they are old enough, but sensitive, the game might not be suitable.
6. Join in: You might feel that your gaming years are long gone, but the best way to keep abreast of what your child is playing is to join them. They are probably keen to show you what they are doing (and possibly beat you!) and you’ll have a greater understanding of what they are up to and how the device or game they are using works.
Use our Parental Controls
If you are a BT broadband customer you can use our free Parental Controls to help keep your children safe. Three filters: Light, Moderate and Strict, block different types of content, including Games and Social Networking, or you can set your own customised filter.
Parental Controls apply to all devices that connect to your home wi-fi network and even work if you are using the BT Wi-Fi app out and about.
You can set filters to come on at certain times, so perhaps you'll want them turned off at 9pm, when the children go to bed. Homework filters are for those occasions when you want your children to have tech down time, turning on filters and block social, social network and cheating websites.