Keeping young gamers safe online

04 Sep 2018 |Written by Matthew Moxon

In this blog (series) Digital Inclusion Officer Matt challenges some of the scare stories you may see in the media about digital technology, that may strengthen the barriers to becoming digitally included. The first focussed upon Online Scams, the second on Fake News.

These blogs are aimed at Online Centres staff, volunteers, learners, or anyone who might want to support their friends and family to learn how to use a computer for the first time.

He aims to give you the peace of mind and the evidence to reassure yourself or a first time user about going online, as we believe at Good Things Foundation, that the benefits of being online far outweigh the benefits of being off.

At 27 years old, I can't really tell you what it's like growing up with the internet, as it grew alongside me. For me the internet became "a thing" when I was about 12. Suddenly after years of me and just three friends playing Donkey Kong 64 and Halo, the prospect of not just playing with 3 others, but hundreds of others at once was really exciting! Myspace then launched a year later in 2003, followed by Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, the first iPhone in 2007. I can't tell you what it's like being born into these things. But I can tell you how to grow into them, adapt and maybe even learn to enjoy them.

Before going further I want to make one thing clear. I do not have children of my own and won't be preaching parenting advice. What I will offer is some good starting points for those of you who may be new to online games and have children you worry about.

For many children, video games are their first independent experience of the internet. A recent report from Ofcom shows that 66% of kids aged 5 to 7 play games for 7 ½ hours a week, while only 3% of this group have social media profiles. This grows to 77% saying they play for 12 hours week, and 74% having social media profiles by the time they're 12 to 15.

I say independent as according to research by Nominet on average 1,000 pictures of a child are shared by their parents before they turn 5 years old. Good job you've already done the Using Facebook course on Learn My Way, right? By the time children turn 5 it's likely they are getting online and playing games on a tablet on their own. Get Safe Online has some great advice for keeping children protected when they're at this point.

There is one game in particular at the moment that kids can't get enough of - Fortnite.

The game is hugely popular, with more than 40 million people logging in to play each month. Many parents have been pestered by their kids to be allowed to play Fortnite. Or more likely, pestered for money for the game. Here are some starting points for anyone who is new to the internet, and unsure on what to do, not just for Fortnite, but any video game:

  • Do you have to pay to play online? Particularly for Playstation and Xbox, you will have to pay if your kids want to play a game online with their friends. If you're reluctant to put your bank details in, it's often cheaper to shop around for 3 or 12 month subscription cards. As well as saving money this also avoids auto-renewals, giving you more control.

Most important of all, if you aren't sure - play along with them! Get them to explain how it works or just spend some time with them watching. YouTube is a fantastic way of watching a game being played before you commit to buying the game as a birthday or Christmas present.

For those who haven't grown up with the internet it can seem a bit of a leap to let your children go online for the first time, but with a little bit of sense and a few good sources of information, you can help your children enjoy the fun of online gaming while staying safe.