Oct 02, 2019

Boy sitting in living room at home close to the tv playing an online video game and wearing a headset

Dateline’s To Catch a Predator series left a lasting impression on me, and many others, I’m sure, despite the relatively short run of the series. Admittedly, I only caught an episode or two, but it was enough to illustrate how cunning and dangerous online predators can be. Now that I’m a parent, I have to be ever more vigilant as online predators find new ways to interact with children.

It may seem great to be able to stream Netflix through your child’s Xbox, PlayStation or Wii, but that online capability could be putting your child in danger. Online games have featured chat rooms for years, but gaming consoles, with the ability to play both online and off, create an added security threat for concerned, and often unsuspecting, parents.

Online predators are now using gaming to infiltrate the ranks of innocent children, grooming them through game chat features. Especially disconcerting is the use of video chats in this process, in which internet predators having the ability to disable their camera, but ask your child to enable his own camera. Not only does this give a pedophile real time audio and visual access to your child, it allows them to vet victims and evade undercover police, posing as children to catch internet predators.

Know the controls

Treat your child’s gaming console as you would their smartphone and social media platforms; familiarize yourself with all of the system’s features, and learn how to enable parental controls. Explore all of the features of the console, and learn how to disable features such as Internet access and video streaming.

If you chose to allow your child to play games online with others, sit with them while they play, or play along with them. Ask plenty of questions. Ask to see how they use chat and video functions to communicate with others, and determine whether or not your child can handle that responsibility. If you have installed parental control software, like Net Nanny, make sure you have turned on alerts to notify you when inappropriate or harmful communication is detected.

That pesky frontal lobe

Remember that your child’s brain isn’t fully formed, and that the underdeveloped frontal lobe can cause problems with impulse control and forward thinking (read: consequences to actions). Not only are you dealing with a child who is biologically challenged to act only after thinking things through (like accepting friend/messaging requests from strangers), but you also have a child who is in the throes of game play.

Chat and messaging features in online games can create confusion in younger children. The lines between fantasy and reality become blurred when you mix a game with the ability to chat with someone who is only there in the virtual sense; this aspect of online gaming can create tricky situations.

Stranger danger

I know, I know, the concept of stranger-danger may seem a little silly, especially if your child is old enough to be playing online games with chat and messaging feature. However, it’s always smart to remind your child of the rules of engagement. If you allow the chat or video chat feature to be enabled when playing, make it very clear who your child is, and is not, to be socializing with.

Some online games, such as Minecraft Pocket Edition, allow parents to create their own groups on a localized server, or provide a plethora of groups that are constantly monitored by a responsible adult. Take the time to research the game your child is playing, and see if any of these options are available to provide a safer social gaming experience.

As always, communicate with your child, in addition to monitoring their gaming interactions, to ensure that he feels comfortable enough to come to you, should a negative experience arise.

Lauren B. Stevens

Lauren B. Stevens is a freelance writer and influential blogger. She is passionate about social media and literature.