“[The] daily routine [for my foster child] was a short walk [and] the rest of the day…was unlimited Fortnite in his room. He speaks of several attempts of strangers trying to contact him via the game.”

(Ineqe Safeguarding Group Digital Safeguarding Survey, 2020)

The world of gaming continues to evolve with 93% of children now playing games in the UK. The move of gaming online has seen gaming platforms absorb many features normally found on social media. In doing so they have transferred and created a new set of risks in gaming that were previously unique to social media.

Previously games could have been played offline, but most games and gaming consoles require an internet connection. This has created a whole new world of online risks.

In this blog, we discuss the risks of gaming and how you can address them, to help protect the children in your care from online harms.

Our upcoming webinars on Fortnite: Battle Royale, Call of Duty: Warzone, FIFA 20, Discord and Twitch will explain how you can keep children safer while playing online.

Gaming Risks

Contact with strangers

Most gaming takes place online in teams with peers and strangers. Users can often engage with strangers through chat functions or by using their microphone or camera.

Talking to strangers can expose young people to offensive or harmful language and in some cases malicious attempts at exploitation and grooming. This has changed from offline gameplay.

Top Tips:

  • Check that any game your child is playing is appropriate for their age

  • Communication functions should be disabled where appropriate and young people should be encouraged to only play with people they know in real life

  • Young people should know how to block and report any abusive behaviour on the platform

  • Encourage your child to talk to you about any issues they encounter when gaming

  • Visit our Safety Centre to find out more

Privacy issues

It’s important that children and young people in your care understand their right to privacy and the risks of revealing personally identifying information online. Disclosing information like where they live, what school or club they attend could make them identifiable. The use of an internet connection while gaming now means young people are open to new risks not found in offline games.

Top Tips:

  • Young people should be aware of the importance of keeping control of their personal information and how this information can be gathered to identify them

  • They should avoid sharing social media usernames, their phone number or email address

Cyberbullying

Aside from the risk from strangers, young people can also experience bullying and harassment from their peers. Where gaming previously has limited functions for in-game communication with other players, this has now changed. Cyberbullying happens in gaming as it does in the world of social media. Combined with the competitive nature of games, this can produce a toxic experience for some young people where players can face bullying and harassment.

Top Tips:

  • Make sure you know how they and others should behave online

  • You can find out more about the signs of bullying by reading our recent blog here

In-app purchases

Consumer spending on digital gaming has more than doubled in the past 6 years.

Many games including Call of Duty: Warzone and Fortnite: Battle Royal are free to download. But once users begin gaming, they can feel pressured into paying to upgrade their weapons and accessories. In previous years, the entirety of a game was purchased on a physical disk. Now, games are downloaded alongside a seemingly endless choice of monetised add-ons accompanied by a stream of advertisements not previously found on offline games.

In some cases, users make purchases without knowing what they are buying. A ‘loot box’ is bought with real currency, but the contents are randomly generated. This can lead to repeated purchases and losses in attempts to collect the desired ‘loot’. MP’s and Children’s charities have called for changes in the law to regulate loot boxes under gambling laws.

Top Tips:

  • Restricting unauthorised purchases can help prevent ‘bill shock’

  • Talking to young people about the importance of healthy attitudes to in-app purchases helps them stay within reasonable limits

  • Find out more about ‘loot boxes’ in our recent blog here

Harmful content

Harmful content can have detrimental impacts on young people and their development. It can include violence, sexualised imagery and the incitement of activities that can cause physical and emotional harm. This content may exist within the gameplay, but it can also come from other users and their behaviour. 

It is thought that the regular consumption of extreme violent content may lead to ‘desensitisation’ where young people react less to violence. Where previous concerns have been about the content within games, the focus has shifted to the content young people may be exposed to from other players.

Top Tips:

  • Social functions within games should be monitored, and restricted where appropriate

  • PEGI age ratings should be used when making decisions on the suitability of games for children and young people

  • Check out our PEGI age rating resources on our Home Learning Hub

Parental Controls

  • Playstation: use the parental controls to control screen time, restrict in-app purchasing and more
  • Xbox: create a ‘Family Group’ here, to set screen time limits and restrict in-app purchasing and more
  • iOS: for safety settings and parental controls for your child’s iPhone or iPad, check out our Safety Centre
  • Android: for safety settings and parental controls for your child’s Android device, check out our Safety Centre
  • Nintendo: use parental controls to manage screen time, in-app purchasing among other things

Further Support

  • For information and guidance on grooming and online sexual exploitation visit CEOP

  • For information and advice on parenting visit Family Lives

  • For information, advice and guidance for professionals visit NSPCC

  • If you have immediate concerns about the safety of a child please call 999

Do you receive our Safeguarding Alerts?

Receive regular updates to help you safeguard children in a digital era.

Sign Up

Creative Activity Pack

As the lockdown begins to ease, we could all benefit from less screen time, give children in your care the opportunity to get away from screens and get creative.
Download Printable

Visit the Home Learning Hub!

The Home Learning Hub is our free library of resources to support parents and carers who are taking the time to help their children be safer online.

Visit Website

What you need to know about Smart Speakers

Read

Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020

Read

Fortnite: Here’s what you need to know

Read

COVID-19 Digital Safeguarding Survey Results

Read

Your Guide to Social Media Stories

Read