By Jennifer Geller, Savvy Cyber Kids Contributor
Does it feel like every time you turn on the news, you hear about another child predator interacting with kids on social media or gaming platforms? Well, the cause for concern is warranted. But, when it comes to multi-player gaming platforms with live in-game text, audio, and video chat functionalities, there are positive benefits to allowing your kids to nurture their friendships online—their IRL (in real life) friendships, of course.
THE THREAT IS REAL:
Technology is everywhere and as it relentlessly expands with each new social media networking site, game and gaming platform, so develops new ways for online predators to reach your children. Recent statistics show that the number of sexual predators and online sexual offenses has more than doubled in the last three years, with more than 82% of online sex crimes originating from social networking sites that predators use to gain insight into their victim’s habits and likes. The predators know what social media apps and games your kids are using, so that is where they head. A missing teen with autism from Arkansaw was abducted and later rescued from a cabin 2,000 miles from her home. Detectives said the victim had been contacted online by a 50-year-old man, who reportedly has tried to befriend over 8,000 other children via social media. Savvy Cyber Kids believes that ‘The Tech Talk’, which involves teaching personal cyber safety, beginning when your child is first holding a device that is connected to the internet (check out our award winning children’s picture books for 3-7 year old’s!), is vital to your child’s safety as they grow up with technology.
- 65% of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain home and school information
- 26% of the offenders used the sites to gain information about the victim’s whereabouts at a specific time
So, if your child learns from a very young age not to talk to strangers, understanding this to mean strangers at the playground and strangers on their screens, alongside not to share personal information online, then you can be assured that your child will not be easily accessible to online predators. This doesn’t mean that you should not be reviewing and authorizing privacy settings from a parental controls perspective with each new internet-enabled app or game experience or watching what your child is doing online. Being involved in your child’s digital life remains a primary tenant of digital parenting. But the fact is that no device promising parental control is all-encompassing. The best parental control is you. And as a digital parent your job is to raise your children with an ingrained understanding of cyber safety and cyber ethics so they can make smart decisions when using internet enabled games or apps.
IT’S NOT ALL BAD:
If your child considers himself/herself a gamer, then he or she probably is pretty passionate about their time spent in front of a screen playing their favorite game with friends. No doubt, time spent alone playing a first person shooter game is very different from time spent with friends online immersed in a creative and strategic game-playing world, like Minecraft or Roblox. If it sounds more innocuous to you, and potentially even more productive, you are right. These games can sustain and grow the friendships and relationships in your child’s life. As a parent, you need to talk to your kids about who they are communicating online with in different games and apps.
What’s key here and what ensures your child’s safety, is that your children are playing with people they know in real life—family members, schoolmates and friends from activities. This means, as a digital parent, you need to be aware of what games your kids are playing and who they are playing with.
Here’s another positive spin for gaming. Can you remember from your own childhood, a friend that moved away? Maybe you stayed in touch for a while, writing letters and making calls. But more than likely, over time, the friendship drifted away without real-time connections to keep it current. In our home, we have witnessed this scenario having a different ending for our son, thanks to multiplayer games. His close friend moved away a couple of summer ago. The boys have maintained their relationship, playing online games together regularly and this summer they will be spending a week in each other’s hometown.
See, online gaming isn’t all bad.
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