Expert Advice

Parenting ‘Tech cred’: The secret to helping your kids navigate online gaming safely

Aussie parents are worried about safety while their kids gaming online, but that doesn’t stop us letting them play. A new study by McAfee says Aussie kids are spending an average of four hours each day on gaming.

By: Rebel Wylie

Research has found that when it comes to our kids and online safety, there is a strange disconnect between our worries about letting them loose in cyber-space and the way in which we monitor them while they are there.

The study from McAfee, which surveyed 5,000 parents of children ages 6 to 16 has revealed that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Australian parents believe their child is at risk of online grooming whilst gaming.

Bizarrely it also found 13 percent never monitor what their children are doing online, and five percent have no idea if their children speak to people online at all.

Perhaps even stranger is the fact that despite their concerns, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of Australian parents admit they allow their children to play between one and four hours of video games every day.

Nearly a third of Australian parents do not follow age rating guides or are unaware that games even have them.

“We don’t want our kids to get left behind,”

McAfee Australia's Cybermum, Alex Merton-McCann suggests that disconnect might have to do with how much this generation of parents has to deal with in an ever changing digital world.

"As first generation digital parents, we have a tough gig. Many of us are furiously trying to get our own heads around the constantly changing digital world without any intel from previous generations. Meanwhile, we need to be educating our kids about the challenges and pitfalls of the online world. It's a big task!" Merton-McCann shares in a blog post titled 'Teens, Gaming and Risk'.

Speaking with Now To Love, Merton-McCann says it can be overwhelming as the children around your kids might be allowed to play games that generally you'd have qualms about because of ratings, or violence etc.

"We are quite concerned that our kids don't miss out, we want them to be part of what is happening around them and not socially isolated," she says.

More than three-quarters of Australian parents admit they allow their children to play between one and four hours of video games every day.

“We need ‘tech-cred’, it’s the only way to build trust”

Worryingly the study found that 53 percent of children play games where they directly interact with other players, drastically increasing their risk of being targeted with inappropriate content or asked to share sensitive information.

When it comes to recommended age ratings, nearly a third of Australian parents (32 percent) do not follow age rating guides or are unaware that games even have them, with more than a third (39 percent) of parents allowing their children to play online games that are recommended for 3-5+ years older than their children's age.

Merton-McCann says part of the problem is that parents simply don't know how to talk to their kids about gaming. Even more important, children don't feel comfortable talking to their parents when it's obvious they don't know what happens online.

Mum of four, Merton-McCann suggest the best way around that is to develop 'tech-cred' by investing a little time each week looking into what is happening in the world of online gaming.

"If your child thinks you have some idea about what you are talking about, they're more likely to engage in communication about what they're experiencing online." She explains.

"A great way to break down the barriers is to dedicate a little window, say 20 minutes, each week to jump on the apps and the games so you know how they work.

"You can also stay abreast of what is going on by checking in with consumer tech blogs, like the e-safety commission, Project Rockit and The Modern Parent."

How to better protect children while playing video games

1. Start conversations early. If you start talking about online safety early, it will make your job that much easier when your children get older. If your kids are young, start with simple rules like: "don't open emails or messages from people you don't know" and "decline friend requests from strangers." You want online safety to be part of normal behaviour.

2. Be careful what you click. Most children have been using digital activities for entertainment from an early age, desensitising them to the potentials risks of online behaviour. Cybercriminals can use the popularity of video games to entice gamers to click on potentially malicious links. Think about what you are clicking on and ensure that it's from a reliable source.

3. Control how long they play. Set a good example by minimising your use of devices around the home, but also use parental control software to set time limits on your child's device usage to help minimise exposure to potentially malicious or inappropriate websites.

4. Avoid malicious links. If your children are searching online for gaming tips or new games to download, a tool like McAfee WebAdvisor can help them avoid dangerous websites and links, and will warn them if they do accidentally click on something malicious.

5. Be protected. No matter what anyone in the family is doing online, it's best to use a security product like McAfee Total Protection that can help keep connected devices safe from malware. Just like any PC application, be sure to keep security software updated with the latest software version.