Online gaming is one of the most popular past-times of children these days. This being especially true over the past year, as kids have been forced to spend more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in a major increase in screen time, whether sitting in front of the TV, on the computer, or with their smartphones.

However, when it comes to kids and video games, there’s a lot more to worry about than just too much screen time. Online games can expose children to cyberbullying, identity theft, malware, hidden fees, and online predators. It’s can also be difficult to know if you’re child is interacting with someone that they shouldn’t be since there’s not always a clear record of communication when playing online compared to interactions on social media or via SMS.

Of course, it’s possible to stay safe while playing online, but it requires a bit of additional effort. If you have a young gamer in your household, consider these important tips to ensure that their experience is a positive one.

Check Their Console’s Parental Controls

If your child is playing on a console like the Microsoft Xbox One, the Sony PlayStation 5, or the Nintendo Switch, then the system will have its own parental control options that you can customize as needed. Some game consoles even have apps that can download for your cellphone, which allow you to track how much time your kids spending on games, along with the ability to set restrictions on things like online payments if need be.

Take Off the Headset

A lot of modern online games encourage players to chat with one another using a headset with a microphone. The voice on the other end of a microphone can be a major tell for how young someone is, not to mention it opens up possibilities for bullying and oversharing, especially if a game gets heated. That said, some popular games require voice chat, so it might not always be an option to shut it off. Still, the option should remain on the table whenever possible, especially if they are playing with people they don’t know in real life.

Leave the Webcam Off

It’s a popular trend for people to stream themselves playing video games, usually on websites like YouTube and Twitch. This often includes using a webcam so that viewers can see player’s real-time reactions to the gameplay. However, this opens them up to

Encourage Anonymity as Much as Possible

When you’re interacting with people online and you don’t know them personally, it is best to avoid sharing any personal information with them. You should encourage your children to never reveal their real name, age, gender, location, or any other identifying info. They should also ensure that their user/account name is vague, or at least not directly identifiable. For instance, they should avoid using their name or relevant numbers like their birthday.

Use Strong & Unique Passwords

Everyone, even kids, needs strong passwords to keep their accounts safe. After all, most online gaming accounts have credit cards attached to them, so a cyber-criminal could easily use it as an opportunity for identity theft. Your best bet is to use long, unpredictable passwords that contain both numbers and symbols, along with using unique passwords for every website, app, or social platform used. It might not always be easy to remember, but your passwords are too easy (or the same across all of your accounts), then it’s easy for others to break-in. If it’s too difficult for them to remember, consider using a password manager.

Always Use Virus Protection

This applies to all online activities. Most official online gaming sites and platforms tend to be secure, but it’s easy for a kid to get curious, click a mysterious link, then end up somewhere shady. Get virus protection software and make sure to update it regularly.

Set Ground Rules for Social Interaction With Strangers

While there are some online games where you can only play and interact with people you know personally, many games are open environments where players can talk freely amongst themselves. It is important to set clear boundaries for how to engage with people online, differentiating between friends they know in real life and strangers. This also requires parents to be aware of who their children are playing and communicating with.

Teach Your Child To Be a Good Online Citizen

When it comes to ensuring your child is safe while playing online, it’ just as much about ensuring that your child isn’t a bad influence as it is keeping them away from bad influences. Online gaming can stir up some strong emotions, and this can quickly lead to inappropriate and hurtful language. Teach your child not only to report toxic behavior they experience online but to how to avoid being toxic themselves.

Of course, just like most parenting tips, the best way to encourage good behavior is to model it. Even if you aren’t a “gamer,” consider playing together with them, especially if they are still young. Not only does this allow you to keep an eye on what they’re playing and who they’re playing with, but it allows you an opportunity to bond and teach one another.