Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Lockdown - Kids safety for non techies.

With lockdown, childrens time spent online is naturally going to increase, and thus, the likelihood of bumping into an idiot online and children being targeted or bullied is increased.

It seems pertinent to start with the basic facts. If your child is going online to play games in situations that allow players from around the world to join, they will, (as in real life) occasionally encounter unpleasant people. I'm lucky as I am naturally interested in gaming, but if you're not, it pays to ask your child to show you what they play, how they play it and with whom they are mixing. It's also worth noting that Xbox Live and Playstation Plus, despite being for gaming, are not services that are designed for minors. The age for an account is 18 on both. It is anticipated, sometimes incorrectly, that minors will have an adult to steer them through the pitfalls of using the service. But there are ways we can keep our children safe and confident online. 

Online bullying can be incredibly hurtful and damaging to a childs well being, so cluing yourself up is a wise move if you're letting them play online, below I have covered the most popular online games to help with understanding of what they are.

The absolute game of the moment is Fortnite. Fortnite takes place with 100 random players on a small island. 99 players will get shot, the last player is the winner. Chances of winning are clearly low. It is possible to host a private game, with only your friends, but very few players do this. If you've joined a Zoom call since lockdown, a private game is like this, created using an invite, a password and a scheduled time. But the game is more fun, and most players agree, with the default 100 players. This is how 99% of players play the game. There is an open chat room, the age rating is 12. The 'kills' in the game are not graphic there is no depiction of blood or gore. Personally, I think it's a bit repetitive.

Roblox is a law unto itself. I researched this when it came out. I do not like it, I do not recommend it and I would not let my children play it (fortunately they never asked). To find out why, read my original blog post here. Although the PEGi rating is 7,  I found the measures that the company behind the game put in place to be woefully inadequate. I found it creepy and I would urge all parents to steer clear. There is an open chat room.

Minecraft is generally safe. Online games with friends in a closed environment are relatively easy to set up, assuming you subscribe to either Xbox live or PS Plus. But, there is a section called Servers (see pic), where anyone in the world can join in. You guessed it, that's where all the idiots are and where there is an open chat room. Bear in mind however, even in Friends, your Friends Friends are likely to be included in a game. So someone you may not know, could decide to be unpleasant.

Call of Duty is another very popular game, it is rated 18 for a reason, there are graphic depictions of blood, gore and death as it is, at it's core, a war simulation game. Parents of children under this age really should not be allowing their children to play this game, online or in story mode (single player). It was neither designed for, nor meant for children to see. To put it into perspective, the most controversial mission was a terrorist attack in an airport where players can play on either side.

Grand Theft Auto is another 18+ game and really should not be played by minors. Not only does it contain graphic violence, but also incredible coarse language, a strip club with partial nudity and story lines and characters of quite a perverse nature. It is wholly inappropriate for children either online or in single player mode. It too, like all of the others has an open chat room.

It may seem odd that I include these last two titles in this guidance, but I have heard of children bragging about being allowed to play these games at home. I can only assume that parents are unaware that the games are as graphic and inappropriate as they are.

In all of the above games the open chat room (which is live during gameplay) is generally where the poor behaviour occurs, this can either be vocal as chat is heard by each player, or typed. Noobs, or kids who are playing the game for the first time, and performing badly perhaps, are usually targeted, although anyone, as has happened recently, can become the victim, even on Minecraft Servers. Abuse doesn't always arrive in the form of written text, or spoken words. It can also involve players having their creations being destroyed, or being targeted unfairly by fellow players who hinder progress and also cheating.

Practical things we can do. 

Game console live services.
On Xbox Live and PS Plus your children will have friend lists.
This list will likely be made up of friends they know in real life, who have shared their username, and people they have met online while playing. Your child might have added them (because they enjoyed playing with them), or the other player might have added your child, and your child has accepted their invitation. Generally speaking, this can be ok playing online should be, and can be fun.

You could, either advise your children to ONLY play with people who they can positively identify, friends from school and delete the others, go through the list with them, or you could advise them to block (and report - see below) anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable.
You could only allow them to play games with their friends which you could set up via parental controls. The links below should help you, although for the non technically minded, this can be overwhelming.
Xbox Parental controls
Playstation Parental controls

Managing relationships. 

Regardless of my views on all of the above, the most useful thing a child can do is, with your support, manage their own relationships online. They will encounter people who say unpleasant things, whether its online, or in real life. How we deal with these people is not be significantly different. The good news for online gamers is, that some of the subscription you pay, is for moderators to investigate and exclude people who are abusive and unpleasant. It's important your child feels safe online, and reassuring them that these unpleasant people are morally wrong, and will get their comeuppance (if they're reported) should give your child an increase in confidence to expect people to play fair and nicely. Quite often, having a plan for when it happens, is enough in itself to soften the blow. If a child isn't expecting unpleasantness and does not know how to respond, or what actions they can take, this can be as confusing as it is upsetting. Panic, fear, upset can all be reduced if the child knows that the plan for dealing with online abuse is,
A) Make a note of the username.
B) Block and withdraw from the game.
B) Tell a trusted adult.
C) Report (see below)

Moderators can investigate cheating as well as general bullying. Everyone on both platforms has a unique username. These usernames aren't unique by accident, they're registration numbers or Player ID's for each and every online member. Making a note of the username is sufficient to file a report and get the user either a temporary or permanent ban.
For less serious unpleasantness. Simply ignore, and block the buffoons, but appreciate that this is much easier for an adult, and much more emotive for a child.

File a report against a user on Xbox or Playstation by following the links.

I hope this is useful, if you've any additional ideas or coping strategies, comment below. 

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