Go ahead and let that title sink in.
Because I play online games, I talk to kids online all day, and I know their parents have no idea. Most are 11 or 12 year old, but some of them are as young as 8 or 9. They’ve shared a great deal of information about themselves with me, completely unprompted.
How? Why? Because many cell phone and tablet games, even ones rated “E for Everyone”, have multiplayer functions that include chat rooms. It’s important that we, as parents, understand what that means.
For discussion purposes, I’m using one specific game as an example. But be aware that there are thousands of others. I do not wish to defame this game in anyway, it’s a great game, but it’s a prime example of multiplayer chat access.
Clash of Clans is one of my favorite App Games on my phone. I love it. My husband loves it. My 11 year old son loves it. In fact, we have our own Clan and the 3 of us play together. Because the gameplay itself isn’t overly violent, has no nudity or foul language, Clash of Clans is rated 10+. But that’s just the gameplay: meaning the part of the game the creators had control over. This rating does not include the Chat rooms.
It’s a strategic, city-building war game and it involves two types of chats: a Clan-specific chat, where you can only talk to other members of your clan (to strategize), and a Global Chat where you can find a clan to join or recruit for your own Clan. Both these chats contain strangers. And the subject matter that these strangers discuss can range from harmless chatter, to downright disturbing. There is a filter for bad words, but believe me that kids (and adults) find creative spellings to avoid them.
Reporting and banning does happen, but too late
The game’s creators have made their own policies stating, regardless of the gameplay rating, their game is only to be played by ages 13 and up. But I’m here to tell you that it isn’t enforced. And honestly, how could it be? I don’t blame the creators.
There are methods to report inappropriate behavior in the chat rooms, and users are regularly Muted or Banned when this happens. But not before our children read what’s been written. It falls on us to proactively approach internet communications with our children. It means opening dialogue with your kids and preparing them for the online world, but also takong steps to protect them as necessary.
As parents we need to step up and better monitor the apps we are allowing our children to use. Be involved, ask them about their games, download them on your own device and check them out for yourselves.
We allow my son to play Clash of Clans only because my husband and I run our own Clan, and since my son is a member of our clan, we can monitor his chat use and “protect” him from unsavoury persons.
I also guide the other children in our clan. I can’t take the game away from them, I’m not their mother, but I can do my best to watch over the ones in my clan. It’s the responsibility of us good hearted people to watch over the kids online when given a chance. I constantly remind them all to never give out personal information, watch what they say (when you write down online it never goes away) and respect their peers and elders. I even ask them if they do their homework and study before playing!
But people like me are a rarity online, and it’s more likely that your child is being talked to by much less considerate persons. And it’s not just adults who are capable of causing your children harm, but other kids and teenagers too. Left unsupervised, the things that minors discuss in chat rooms can be very scary and honestly, disgusting. I tell my son constantly “be careful, you can’t unsee or unhear things once they come at you” and this applies especially to online interactions.
Rules we have for multi-player games
Some of the rules I have for my son’s game time (and this applies to all games) arenas follows. At time of writing, he is 11 years old and does not have a cellphone- only a small iPod.
- All games that can’t be played while offline are played in the living room, with parents around.
- He is allowed to have 3 games installed on his device at a time, and he can earn more (or less) with his grades in school.
- Parental controls are fully utilized on his iPod and he doesn’t have access to the App store, store purchases, or in-game purchases (make sure you look that up to avoid unknown credit card charges), as well as multiplayer functions.
- He is a child, and his devices are not paid for by him. This means they are subject to inspection and suspension at any time. He cannot keep them private from us, his parents, and we’ve made it very clear that we are responsible for his safety and therefore we are allowed to look at everything he has stored on there.
It takes some research, but the information is readily available for you to set and enforce parental controls for your children’s specific device. Be sure to spend some time looking up various ways to protect your children online, not just on your PC, but also on Smartphone and Tablet Apps.
For help setting parental controls on various devices, check out this article over at parent magazine.
What devices do your children used and what kind of rules and parental guides have you established to keep them safe? Feel free to comment and join the discussion.