Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Video Game Safety: Tips on Keeping the Kids Safe

 #DigitalJoneses #TrendMicro

With the kids all on summer break from school,  I have definitely noticed an increase in their time spent video and online gaming.  I should clarify that I'm not allowing them to be lazy blobs on my couch all day.  The reality is, my kids are extremely active in sports and other activities.  In fact, it's because the kids are coming home so physically exhausted from practices, training sessions, and sports camps that our gaming consoles are getting a large amount of recent use.  It's our older kids "go to" activity when they arrive home physically exhausted.  And with that in mind, June's Digital Joneses challenge on Video Game Safety was a well timed reminder for this Mommy of 5.  

Here are half a dozen tips I picked up from Trend Micro that I wanted to pass along:

Take an Interest

Trend Micro's first tip in keeping the kids safe while gaming is in my opinion the most important one, parents must stay involved.  And I confess that I've also found this piece of advice, while wise, to be quite difficult for me to fully accomplish due to our family's structure and dynamics.

While one of the easiest ways to stay involved in the kids gaming can be to keep the gaming system in a common area of the home, unfortunately this concept can't be done in our household.  I'd love to have the gaming system centrally located so I can see and hear what the kids are playing and perhaps even jump in and play along.  However, keeping our PS3 full time in the family room would expose our 4 year old twin boys to the games my 17 year old son is playing and that's not an acceptable scenario.  To further complicate staying involved in my oldest son's gaming, is our schedules.  With it being summer our son often has just begun his play as hubby and I are heading off to bed.

So how do I stay involved in terms of our oldest kids?  I find they do like to talk about what's going on in their games and that desire to share their accomplishments with someone who will listen (coupled with implementing some basic rules and safeguards) works for us.  By simply taking an interest in their favorite games, I've found myself able to keep up fairly well on how long they played and with whom.

Utilize the Ratings

Just like movies, video games have their own ratings assigned by The Entertainment Software Rating Board (  The ratings are "EC" Early Childhood, "E" for Everyone, "E10+" for Everyone 10 +,  "T" for Teen, "M" for Mature, and "AO" for Adults Only.  Trend Micro pointed out to us Digital Joneses that while these ratings are good guidelines, parents should still preview content before allowing their child to play it and I'd agree that is essential.  Guidelines work great in terms of generally weeding games out, but I agree that only I really know what will or won't work for my child.  The rating board has no way of knowing that my child is petrified of spiders or jellyfish, so ultimately I have to decide what game would be best for what child.   With my 4 year old twin boys just starting to game, I found it handy to put my 11 and 13 year old to work helping me preview potential first options.

Additionally, don't forget to check your favorite parenting and mom blogs for what their thought was on a new game or app released.  While I personally don't have too many video game reviews, I do have posts on many of favorite kid apps.

Set the Parental Controls

I polled several of my friends and absolutely none of them knew, including me, that gaming consoles like Playstation 3, Xbox, and etc had parent control settings!  When did that happen?  Did you guys all know this?  Sure enough, I checked my Playstation 3 (after reading the provided tips) and it will allow me to set what game rating levels can be played, what movie rating levels can be played, restrict web browsing, and more.  How did I miss that memo?  In case you need help here is Playstation 3 Parental Control instructions and Xbox360 parent controls, as well as Nintendo Wii Instructions.  And while I'm on the subject, I should mention that portable devices like the Kindle Fire and iPad also offer parent control settings I've found to be helpful.  Furthermore, watch for additional software for your gaming consoles that offers even further protection options.

Never Let Them Reveal Their Secret Identity

Trend Micro also reminded us how important it is to discuss privacy with your kids.  Perhaps I'm still stuck in superhero mode from my four year twins recent birthday party, but I find it best to tell my kids to look at their online presence as their public superhero name and their real info as their private secret identity.  Clark Kent never revealed he was Superman and vice versa Superman never revealed he was Clark Kent.  There is no telling what the villans would do if they provided too much information.  And whimsical analogy aside, my kids are on strict orders not to reveal details such as their name, gender, school, or home location to anyone online or off without my permission.

Watch for Bullying via Gaming Consoles

Cyberbullying and online harassment isn't limited to just the computer.  Interaction between players on many online games can also allow for these same kinds of incidents.  Trend Micro reminds that one should learn what can be done.  Options include blocking players via game settings, contacting game publishers, and even contacting local police depending on the nature of the threat involved.

Enforce Limits

I think most parents would agree that setting limits is a recurring theme in almost every aspect of parenthood.  It's my mommy mission to limit everything from snacks to sun exposure.  In terms of gaming, there are two limitations to be set, purchases and allocated game time.

Our purchase policy is simple, you can't buy anything without asking mom or dad.  This rule is in place universally, whether we are talking about a .99 app or large purchase on their own gift card.  we approve them all.

In regards to time limits, my job was done for me.  5 kids + 1 video game console = Lots of Sharing.  The kids have worked out their own system on who can play when and what exceptions are made.  I may settle a dispute here or there, but for the most part having only one game console has made it impossible for any one kid to play for too long.

Disclosure: Please note our family has received products from Trend Micro to help us examine the challenges contained within this year long study known as The Digital Joneses. However all opinions, thoughts and statements expressed here are our own.

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