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Protecting Your Child’s Experience of Online Gaming and Bullying

Gaming is a popular activity among teens, and some video games allow users to play online with others. Unfortunately, online gaming can be a place for cyberbullying to occur.

When you find out your child is being bullied, fight the Mama or Papa bear instinct and work to fully understand what is happening. Work with them to ensure their accounts are secure and family safety tools (often called parental controls) are active.

1. Talk to Your Child

Talking with your child regularly about their gaming experiences is the best way to build up their resilience. It will also help you spot any emotional or behavioral changes, like becoming upset or frustrated after a game. This could be a sign that they are being bullied or have seen or experienced something upsetting online.

Encourage your child to discuss their games with you in a low-stress and private setting where they feel comfortable sharing their experiences without being judged. Be open and non-judgmental, and listen fully to what they are saying. It will be easier for them to confide in you if they know you actively listen to them.

Explain to your children that it is important to balance their gaming time with other activities, such as homework and exercise, to avoid addiction. Ensure that they aren’t playing too late at night, as the blue light from screens tricks the brain into thinking it is daylight and can disrupt sleep cycles. Educate your child on the importance of creating strong passwords to protect their account and to keep personal information, like addresses and phone numbers, private. Ensure that they understand the consequences of clicking on links provided by strangers, such as downloading ‘cheat’ programs to gain an advantage in games, which can expose their devices to viruses and malware.

Teach your children to report hurtful or inappropriate players, as most game sites have the option for reporting. Reminding them to use in-game privacy settings and only play with friends they know is also a good idea.

It is essential to teach your kids not to share their personal information online, especially on social media sites and in chat rooms where bullying occurs. They should also learn not to reply to bullies, as this is exactly what the bully wants. Instead, they should block the player and tell a trusted adult about their experience.

Explain to your children that cyberbullying can take many forms, from ‘whispering’ in-game chat rooms to spamming global chat channels with derogatory comments about their victim. They should also be aware of ‘scamming’, where players ask for real money in exchange for in-game items or services.

2. Set Limits

One of the most important things you can do to help your child is to set limits on how much time they spend playing online games. If your child becomes destructive, aggressive, or violent when you attempt to enforce these limits or are unable to stop gaming, it may be time to seek outside support. A counselor or therapist will be able to work with your family to determine what changes are necessary and how to implement them in a way that is healthy for your child.

Make sure your kids understand that just like in real life, there are good people and bad people on the Internet, and they should only play with friends they know and never share personal information like their email addresses, passwords, phone numbers, or street addresses. In addition, they should never agree to meet in person with anyone they encounter online and report any threatening messages or behavior to the game community or the platform.

Also, point out that some network games allow players to communicate verbally or via instant messaging and that this can be used by predators who want to gain your child’s trust and coax private information out of them (like their name, school, and address) so they can contact them in real life to try to scam them or commit cyberstalking. This can also be a problem for girls who are targets of sexist or misogynistic comments and culture that can be found in certain gaming environments.

Talk regularly about your child’s gaming interests and who they play with online, and encourage them to tell you if they notice any unusual or concerning behavior. Keep up to date on news and stories about cyberbullying, privacy, and other online risks, and use them as conversation starters with your children.

Finally, it’s worth considering setting a timer or other kind of device to remind your child when their game time is over. Some games can be very addictive and can lead to long-term problems like poor sleep habits or even depression. This can be difficult because of the high-reward design of some games, but it is important to find an approach that works for your child.

3. Monitor Their Activity

Many of the dangers children face online are virtual rather than physical and can include cyberbullying, contact with predators, and inappropriate content. It is important for parents to monitor their child’s activity and discuss the dangers of the digital world so they are prepared if something happens.

Providing clear rules and boundaries can help your kids feel empowered to report unsafe behaviors to you or another trusted adult. In addition, regular gaming with your kids can serve as a way to bond with them and promote healthy use of the internet.

It is essential to familiarize yourself with the ratings of video games before letting your kids play. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) and website sites such as VideoGame Review offer editorial and consumer reviews. Also, talk with your kids about what games they are playing and check their friends list for players you may not recognize. Many predators and bullies seek out photos of their victims, so be sure your kids are not sharing personal information with other players online.

In addition, some games require an internet connection to work, and your kids should be aware that these connections can be monitored by nefarious individuals. Some games also promote violence against women, and many young girls have complained of being harassed by other gamers for their gaming habits or appearances in the game. Teach your kids that harassing other gamers is unacceptable and that to walk away from a situation if they are feeling uncomfortable.

Some programs, such as Aura, offer parental controls that let you see how much time your kids are spending gaming and provide alerts if they receive messages from cyberbullies or predators. These programs can also block online access if it interferes with their sleep or schoolwork, allowing you to set screen time limits. It is also important to monitor your kids’ phones and tablets and keep them away from websites that are known for offering adult content. Also, be sure to teach your kids to create strong passwords and never share them with anyone.

4. Report Bullying

The internet is a hugely popular platform for gamers to interact with their friends. While online gaming can have positive aspects, such as building social skills and learning problem-solving techniques, it can also be a place for cyberbullying to take place. It’s essential for parents and guardians to keep an open line of communication with their children about online gaming and the potential risks involved. Keeping games part of everyday conversation can empower parents and help them establish rules and limits around how much time they allow their kids to spend gaming.

Online gaming platforms can be notorious for fostering cyberbullying because they draw the player into the virtual world to the point where it may seem as real as the physical one. Bullies use this to their advantage, often harassing their victims through whisper messages or spamming global chat channels with derogatory statements. It’s worth noting that despite the stereotypical notion of cyberbullies being teenagers, online gaming can be enjoyed by people of all ages and genders.

If you think your child is being bullied while playing online, report it immediately to the police. Doing this as soon as possible is important to prevent the situation from worsening. Make sure your child’s gaming account is linked to an email address (ideally that of a parent or guardian) so all in-game conversations can be monitored. This will also help catch bullying incidents early. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your child’s privacy settings on other websites, gaming platforms, and apps and to remind them not to share their passwords.

When reporting bullying to the police, it’s crucial that you keep a clear and calm record of the incident. Be prepared to answer questions about what happened and provide evidence, such as screenshots or copies of any abusive messages that have been sent. If the bullying is ongoing, it’s a good idea to inform both the gamer’s school and the police of the situation. The school may deal with the issue through its disciplinary procedures, while the police may have to get involved in the event of a crime.

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