Online Video Games: Toys or Trouble? – 7 Practical Tips to Keep Kids Safe Online

A 22-year old man allegedly met a 10-year old boy online while they were both playing the video game “Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2.” The man invited the boy into a private chat room where they exchanged cell phone numbers. The man proceeded to call and send texts to the boy requesting pictures of his genitals. Unfortunately the boy sent the pictures in hopes of receiving cheat codes for the video game which would allow the child various advantages in the game. Luckily the child’s mom checked his phone and text records and alerted authorities. Just because your child is not involved in social networking, does not mean they are safe from online predators.

Seven practical tips to keep your child safe while playing online video games:
1. Before allowing your child to engage in any online activity discuss the basic rules of engagement. They are to never disclose their full name, address, phone number, school name or any other identifier.
2. Make sure your child knows to only chat with friends or relatives during the online gaming session. There have been instances where people have their online gaming identification stolen, so make sure your child knows to look out for any peculiar behavior or verify that they are chatting with a friend. I would advise my child to avoid private chat rooms even if asked to join by a friend or family member as they can just as easily speak on the phone.
3. If your child is being harassed, let them know they can come to you for help. Yes, you will probably be upset, but your child must feel safe enough to share this information.
4. Make sure your child knows to never send out any pictures or any other confidential information to anyone, not even family members, without your permission.
5. Often times your children play online video games while visiting friends. Find out what games they play and the family policies to make sure you and the other parents are on the same page.
6. Invade their privacy. In this instance mentioned above, the mom checking her son’s cell phone records probably saved his life. You probably know all of your child’s real life friends, and it should be no different with online friends.
7. No matter how much your child begs you for a certain game, check out the video game rating. In this instance the game was rated mature and was not suitable for the child.

ESRB Game Rating System:
EC – Early Childhood. The game is appropriate for anyone between the ages of three to six. It may include components that require reading or math skills.
E – Everyone. This is for everyone over at least seven years old. It may contain little or no violence or strong language, and resembles the MPAA’s G Rating.
E10+ – The game is suitable for people age ten and older. It may include some mild violence and some strong language. The Sims 2 for Playstation has this rating and it resembles the MPAA’s PG rating.
T – Teen. Anyone thirteen and older could play this game. Most of the western civilization games fall under this level. This resembles the PG-13 rating as there may be some nudity, violence or strong language.
M – Mature. This is the most common game rating because most gamers are over seventeen years old. Many of the war games and some sports games such as NASCAR fall under this category. These resemble the MPAA R rating and usually contain violence, some nudity, language, and possibly sex.
AO – This is the hardcore stuff with intense violence, nudity, sex, and strong language. You must be eighteen or older to buy this game and most people are done with gaming after they get at this level. This resembles the MPAA’s X or NC-17 Rating.
RP – Rating Pending. This rating is usually used for advertisements, but when the game hits the stores its rating has been determined. Some games, however, do have this kind of rating, just to do a similar kind of thing as calling a movie that should be R or higher unrated, such as “American Pie 2″.

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