Playing it safe

Around 80 per cent of children aged 8 to 17 years have played online games at some time. The games are entertaining, and kids are drawn to the challenge, but there are some very real risks. Online safety experts, Netsafe, share the practical steps you can take to keep kids safe and where to seek help if you need it. 

The reason online games are so popular is because it’s fun. Gaming can get a bad rap, but the news is not all grim. Gaming has benefits such as opportunities to socialise, developing coordination, problem-solving and multi-tasking. But, as games have become more sophisticated, opportunities for bullying, unwanted contact, excessive spending and accessing inappropriate content have increased. 

Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker says, “There are real risks that come with people playing online games. As parents, understanding those risks and taking steps to manage them will help keep your kids safe online. Every child is different, so the key is finding the strategy that works for your family.” 

To help support parents, Netsafe developed the Online Gaming Whānau Toolkit, a resource that outlines the potential dangers
and offers practical advice for parents to implement. According to the guide, the first steps are to understand the risks and learn about gaming. 

Martin Cocker says, “Talk to your children about the games, sit alongside them when they’re playing and even pick up a controller and learn to play. That way, you can find out about how they’re using their devices and games. Then you can begin to have conversations about security.” 

Many parents worry about excessive use of devices or what is sometimes referred to as gaming addiction. Netsafe recommends talking to your children about the importance of balancing time online with other activities and then setting realistic boundaries and guidelines to follow as a family. 

Many games include a social element that allows for communication with other players. This can be a very positive aspect of gaming, and most gamers are just there for fun. But it is important to be aware that this functionality brings with it the risk of bullying, harassment, or unwanted contact. 

Martin Cocker says, “The anonymity of the internet means young people can be at risk of unsavoury or inappropriate contact. There are technical steps you can take with devices to reduce safety concerns. If you learn what the options are and implement them, you can be sure you’ve done everything possible.” 

For a comprehensive guide to keeping young people safe to enjoy the world of online gaming, you can download the Netsafe Online Gaming Whānau Toolkit on their website. 

netsafe.org.nz