Protecting children online: a military family guide to safe online gaming Published June 21, 2023 By Special Agent David A. Shaver, OSI Internet Crimes Against Children Operations Manager, Liaison Officer QUANTICO, Va. -- Today’s digital age has brought increasing concerns about children’s safety in the virtual world, particularly for military families who frequently relocate and find that their children often maintain friendships online. Unfortunately, internet predators have found ways to exploit children in online gaming communities. With a vast number of underage users, topping over 100 million active users in some gaming communities, it is critical for parents to remain vigilant and proactively protect their children. Here are seven practical tips for parents to protect their kids while they navigate the world of online gaming: 1. Open communication The foundation of online safety begins with open and honest communication between parents and their children. Establish a trusting relationship where your child feels comfortable sharing their online experiences, including the games they play and the people they interact with in online gaming platforms. Parents should encourage their children to ask questions and promptly report any worrisome incidents they encounter. 2. Set clear boundaries To ensure online safety, it is crucial to establish well-defined rules and guidelines for online activities. This includes setting time limits for gaming sessions and creating a balanced schedule that incorporates other activities. Discuss appropriate behavior, the importance of not sharing personal information and the potential risks of interacting with strangers online. 3. Enable privacy settings Online platforms provide a range of privacy settings that enable parents to oversee their children's online interactions effectively. It is essential to customize these settings according to your child's age and maturity level. By implementing measures such as restricting chat to "Friends Only" or disabling chat features altogether, the likelihood of encountering inappropriate conversations can be significantly reduced. 4. Familiarize yourself with online gaming Take the time to understand the platform your child is using by familiarizing yourself with its features and social interactions. This research will enable you to understand your child's online experiences and identify potential risks. Knowing gameplay features is crucial to keeping your child safe online. While privacy settings can be activated and chat capabilities disabled, it is important to note that communication may still occur through alternative means. Some games use things like signs, chalkboards, and bulletin boards to communicate during game play. Playing online games as an adult can better prepare you to understand communications. Alternatively, supervising your child's gameplay can also be beneficial. By sitting with your child while they engage in online games, asking about their experiences, and addressing any concerns you observe, you can effectively promote their online safety and well-being. Additionally, familiarization of online games can also help you identify potential issues and guide your child toward making safe choices. While fostering independence is important, especially for older children, occasional monitoring of their gameplay can be beneficial. 5. Monitor friend requests, online friends It is critical to advise your child to only accept friend requests from individuals they know in real life and trust. Make it a habit to regularly review their friend list to ensure they interact with known individuals. Teach them the importance of not sharing personal information and declining invitations to private online spaces. Remember, children love having multiple friends and often accept friend requests without regard to personal/online safety. 6. Educate online stranger danger Help your child understand the concept of “online stranger danger,” a term used to caution and educate children about the potential risks of interacting with unknown individuals. Emphasize that people online may falsely represent themselves on the internet. Teach them to be cautious about sharing personal information, including their real name, address, school or phone number, and encourage them to report any suspicious or uncomfortable encounters. 7. Stay informed on gaming updates Online gaming platforms frequently enhance their features, security measures, and guidelines. Remain up to date through official sources, blogs, or newsletters, allowing you to adjust your safety measures accordingly and stay ahead of potential risks. Lastly, online gaming can offer an enjoyable experience for children, but parents must prioritize their children's safety. By establishing open communication, setting clear boundaries, and implementing the safety tips mentioned above, parents can ensure their children have a positive and secure online gaming experience. Remember, online safety is an ongoing process that requires vigilance and adaptability. Together, we can create a safer virtual world for our children. Please, don't hesitate to contact your local OSI detachment for questions regarding online child safety or to report incidents regarding your child's safety online. You may also submit a tip online at https://www.osi.af.mil/Submit-a-Tip/.