It’s only a game, what can go wrong? Actually a lot. Quite a lot.

To be clear, you are not about to read a prescriptive warning to STOP your children from gaming. Savvy Cyber Kids thinks there are a lot of benefits and a lot of fun to be had gaming. After all, time spent with friends exploring in strategic game-playing worlds can sustain and grow the friendships and relationships in your child’s life. In video games, your child is also learning how to compromise, follow rules, take turns, resolve conflicts, and solve problems. But your child needs to play it safe. As you watch him or her launch into the virtual battlefield, make sure they have ‘amped’ up with the street smarts that will keep them safe on and off the screen.

Who is the Enemy?

For kids today, their gaming worlds are a social event amongst each other, as well as a challenge of skill and a competition within a larger community. Gaming after-school and on the weekends is for some kids a de facto part of their socialization. One might argue, that that forbidding gaming would have a negative impact on a child’s socialization. But once a game is in play, most kids are largely unsupervised on a battlefield where strategic alliances, tricks and violent actions—while imbedded in the nature of the game—can also hurt IRL (in real life) feelings and also have a negative impact on a child’s socialization. Does your gamer ever complain about his or her teammates? Does he feel like they are targeting him or her in some way? Or are you concerned that your gamer may be playing harshly towards his or her friends?

Friends can treat each other badly while gaming in any number of ways. Unspoken alliances that target a player can permit him or her to lose points, power or life. Yes, it’s just a game. But these losses mean a lot to your child and having their friends be the source of these conflicts can result in a whole lot of discontentment.

Don’t let gaming time be exclusively unsupervised time. Play with your child so that you can understand what the rules for engagement are and appreciate what’s at stake for your gamer. Observe your child playing with others so that you can understand how he or she plays the game—not just strategically, but emotionally. If your gamer becomes frustrated or angry, try to identify what the cause of the problem is. If you think the problem is centered on specific gamers, observe the next time they play together and talk to your child about what he or she is experiencing.

If the misbehavior accelerates and becomes toxic or abusive and you have observed audio and/or chat that makes it very clear that your child is being targeted, you do have the option to report in-game abuse to in-game support facilities, go to the game’s support pages to learn more. You can also report directly to gaming platforms.

This is likely the right step if the people being reported are not your child’s peers but rather strangers within the game. When it’s IRL friends, Savvy Cyber Kids says it’s time to take a break from playing with those teammates. If you don’t intervene, your child may be goaded into their own misbehavior and their ‘friends’ may use that as an opportunity to report your gamer and get their gaming account suspended. Make no mistake, this would be devastating to your child.

At the very worst side of the scale of misbehavior in gaming is something called swatting. This is where gamers let their battles come off the screen and use their cyber super powers not for good, but to wreak havoc on another gamer’s personal life—including anonymously calling for police SWAT presence at a gamer’s home, at least in one case with tragic results.

Tips for Raising a Happy Gamer:

  • Make sure your child understands the difference between gaming talk and bullying. Remind them that the words they say and write can be hurtful to others, and hurtful to them if screen shots or other recordings are taken.
  • Encourage your child to apply the same rules for relationships in real life to their gaming experiences.
  • Make sure that your gamer understands that the aggression nurtured in the game ends when the joystick is put down, that a game is not – and should not carry over to – real life.

Has Your Child Been Scammed?

Fortnite may be the leader of the pack today, but have no fear, there will be more games after Fortnite that capture the attention (every waking moment) of your gamer. Gaming developers have figured out a tantalizing formula, one that will certainly carry over to future games. They make playing the game free but encourage in-game purchases. These are ‘investments’ that in no way affect your ability to play the game—but let you be the architect of your experience, individualizing how your gamers character looks or moves. And as your gamer will inevitably want these customizations, they will also be attracted to offers to get access to them.

Can you recall your gamer mentioning that they followed a link to a free gaming offer or filled out a survey to get access to something. Well, your child may not know when he or she is being scammed. Or at the very least, your child is not being careful about NOT SHARING PRIVATE information, like names, email addresses and even credit card numbers.

Tips To Avoid Gaming Scams:

  • Beware of…
    • Websites that offer your gamer points for watching or clicking on ads. A recent study discovered more than 4,700 fake Fortnite websites! The promise is that these points can be redeemed for free currency within a game. This promise will be broken AND the site will try to get from your gamer his or her gaming username and password or ask your gamer to take a survey that requires submitting personal information, under the pretense that they need to take the survey to prove that they are human.
    • Fake domains that mimic your gamers favorite game’s website and trick your gamer into following offers to free gaming currency or buying fake currency, all while collecting personal information and sometimes charging a credit card.
    • YouTube and social media scams that encourage your gamer to share links to get free gaming currency, all fake. By doing this, your gamer is helping the scam reach more people and may link to malware that steals personal information.
  • Discourage your gamer from giving out any personal information—on forms, quizzes and registration pages.
  • Talk about why businesses and scammers want their personal information.
  • Teach your child how to recognize fake domains.
  • Tell them, if they have your permission, they should only spend money on official (not fake) gaming platforms.

Sometimes the ‘danger’ from hackers can happen from within the very game itself. Recently, a flaw in Fortnite’s authentication process allowed hackers to send a link to the gamer that, if clicked (and why would your gamer have concerns since it came from Fortnite?) gave access to your gamer’s account where the hacker could buy virtual currency and purchase game equipment that could then be transferred to a separate account and resold. This hack also gave access to gamer conversations. Fortnite fixed this issue and said, “We were made aware of the vulnerabilities and they were soon addressed. We encourage players to protect their accounts by not re-using passwords and using strong passwords, and not sharing account information with others.” Great advice!

Multiplayer online gaming is here to stay and, in fact, promises new, tantalizing features in the months and years ahead. If your child is a gamer, you need to make sure they know what they need to know to level up and stay in the game. Here’s a tip from my 11-year-old Fortnite gamer: “Just tell them, there’s no such thing as free V-bucks!”

Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for our free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics. See more cyber safety and cyber ethics blogs produced exclusively for EarthLink. Looking for a social media parental control? Try a 30-day free trial of Bark. If you sign up after your trial, Bark donates 25% of your monthly fee to Savvy Cyber Kids.

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