As parents our worst fear is that some harm comes to our child. While we can protect them physically our ability to protect our children online can be much more difficult. It’s critical that parents use parental controls for kids gaming apps to avoid unwanted interaction from online predators.
It can be easier than you’d expect for bad actors to gain access to children via gaming apps. Let’s explore why this is the case and what you can do to protect your family.
How Bad Actors Gain Access
Games such as Minecraft and Fortnite are fun and provide a way to relax while being challenged. Players can interact with other in-game players and this is where trouble can arise. If your kids are playing against their friends it certainly is not an issue. However, it’s all to easy for a new “friend” to appear online claiming to be someone or something that they aren’t.
The predator is able to communicate with children all without ever revealing that they are an adult. Remember that all these games use avatars that don’t have to resemble the player in real life. Many games are also lacking on the sign-up and verification front. They don’t employ age-verification or any style of check to ensure a bad actor doesn’t gain access to other players.
Sure many games are recommended for use by those of a certain age. We’ve all seen the “this game designed for 13+”. You’d be a bit foolish to think this has any impact on preventing people of all ages from using the app. It’s all too easy to click “agree” or confirm your age without any verification.
Use Parental Controls For Kids Gaming Apps
Predators know that people can be lulled into a false sense of security. Games and apps designed by trusted names might pass a parent’s radar without much scrutiny. If the game or app is from Disney or Lego, for example, how bad could it be?
While the game developer wants to provide an exciting gaming experience, the familiarity with the brand might lead some parents to overlook setting proper parental controls.
Parents should ensure they know what games are on their child’s phones and tablets. Even if the game looks harmless, don’t assume that predators aren’t lurking in the shadows. Any games with chat or other social features should make your spidey-senses tingle as that is an easy opening for a predator to exploit. A predator can send a message pretending to be a child of a similar age and then build trust. This could eventually lead to your child engaging in video chats or sharing personal information with a complete stranger without you knowing.
Parents can take many steps to avoid this scenario including setting parental controls and employing the assistance of web and app monitoring solutions.
If you’ve done a review of the app and don’t find a way to limit, or completely turn off, chat features it’s best to remove the app and find something else to play. Yes, your child might be angry. However, their anger is better than the alternative. It also presents an opportunity to educate your child on the benefits and dangers of the web. I don’t advocate for scare tactics. However, children should know that the web can be a risky place and proper steps must be taken for self-protection. Presenting a view that the web is always great or sugar coating the risks will only end up causing trouble in the future. Frank and honest discussions will educate your child. They will also appreciate, after a certain age, your straight forward manner and open communication with them.
Red Flags To Watch For
Let’s say you’ve reviewed each app and only allow your child to use those that pass your review. That’s a great start! You’ve also set parental controls where possible in the apps your child does play. You’re well on the way to “Dad of the Year” at this point.
Before getting to excited, however, it’s important to remain vigilant. Apps are constantly being updated. New updates can invalidate prior settings and bugs are frequent in software. A simple update could cause numerous problems. Keep your guard up by making it a habit to periodically review your child’s apps and their settings. Also keep an eye out for certain red flags that your child might being having some issues online. Such red flags might be:
- Your child appears to be growing distant and it isn’t the normal teenage years
- “Friends” you don’t know are sending your child message in the app
- Hiding, or turning off, a device when you enter the room
If you happen to notice any of the above behavior or other strange behaviors from your child it’s time to set further restrictions on app games. Parents should also ask their children questions and foster open communication. Your child should be comfortable speaking with you about difficult topics. Responding with anger won’t foster that trust. Remember, your child isn’t at fault here. Some predator is online attempting to exploit a weakness. They are the bad actor. Your child is, after all, just a kid and can’t be expected to defend themselves from every possible threat.
Teaching your child proper cyber-security practices is a good first line of defense. It’s also important that you take a proactive role in reviewing and moderating the apps they play with. When possible use parental controls for kids gaming apps to turn off chat features, direct-messages, voice-calls, or any other vulnerability a predator could exploit.