It’s a fact, however, that when online gaming, significant challenges and risks may arise. These can be related to, among other things, the content, the time spent engaging with them, and the ability to communicate with other people. Some examples include:
- Inappropriate content: Some games may not be appropriate for the child’s age as they may include violent or inappropriate content, or scenes intended to invoke horror or fear. Exposure to violent and inappropriate content can lead to an increase in aggressive and violent behaviour, use of vulgar and inappropriate vocabulary, and significantly reduce positive social behaviours (such as empathy and acceptance).
- Excessive use (addiction): Online games are a potential form of addiction. Using them excessively can be detrimental to school performance and social activities, restricting daily activities and real, meaningful contact with peers and/or family.
- Communication with strangers (seduction): Virtual online game communities, in which children and teenagers are involved, encourage potential contact with someone who may want to intimidate or harass the player. If someone participates in multiplayer online games (where they play against other people, possibly from different parts of the world), they are liable to hear offensive language from other players, or risk being intimidated or putting themselves in a vulnerable position where they may become a victim of sexual harassment.
- Consumerism: Many online games encourage and promote the purchase of products, becoming costly traps by forming materialistic behaviours.
Advice to parents includes:
- Participate in your child’s digital life: Children’s and young people’s engagement with digital devices and the internet should be done with your active and guiding support, through open dialogue and discussion. It is important to talk and know about your child’s favourite activities and favourite online games. Don’t hesitate to play online games alongside your child – learn the purpose of the game, why they like it, what they think about it, and so on.
- Check the content of online games: It’s very important to allow children and young people to play online/video games. However, as always, it is necessary to check so that decisions to permit games are well informed regarding content and the age limits. You can find out more about the PEGI (Pan-European Game Information) video game content rating system at the following links: the PEGI system, PEGI system markings, and PEGI ranking system for video games. The PEGI system was created to protect children, and to help parents make the right decisions when buying games.
- Set time limits: Inform your child that their time playing online games should not affect their participation in social and sports activities, schoolwork, and sleep. Encourage your child’s social interactions and interpersonal relationships by strengthening their network of friends and offer opportunities to engage in healthy activities (for example, sport, dancing, painting, physical exercise, music, and so on), creatively enriching their time and helping to reduce their time spent playing online games and other related activities.
- Mention potential risks: Talk to your child about the risks that may arise in online/video games (for example, bullying, communicating with strangers, or inappropriate content) and advise them how to deal with them. It is important for children to be informed that when gaming, they should show the necessary respect both to the rules and to other players, be extremely careful with their personal information (including their photos) and sharing information, not to consent to meeting with other players without the permission and presence of their parents, and to report any issues or difficulties they encounter. In particular, don’t hesitate to talk about bullying or other potentially harmful behaviours (for example, threats or vulgar language), noting the importance of prompt reporting to you or another adult they trust.
If you’re worried about your children engaging with online/video games, find out about the parental control options available. Parental control tools, which are available on computers and consoles, add some restrictions during the game. In particular, parental control tools allow you to set specific parameters for games such as age, game appropriateness, game duration, blocking the addition of friends, blocking the ability to chat and write messages, protection of privacy, exclusion of people who do not follow the community rules, reporting other players’ inappropriate behaviour, and similar.
Such controls, however, are not a substitute for parental involvement and are not a panacea or the only solution for children’s safety. Your ongoing presence and support in all of your children’s online experiences is essential and crucial.
- Maintain a good relationship with your child and develop good communication so that they feel comfortable to discuss their online activity (such as online friends, or websites they visit) and any potential online risks they face. It is important for children and young people to know who they can turn to for help.
- Monitor your child’s emotional well-being by regularly asking them if there is anything bothering them emotionally.
- If you’re worried about potential risks on the Internet (such as bullying, harmful content, or dangerous games), don’t hesitate to talk openly with your child. Ask them what they think, and discuss any concerns in a constructive rather than critical manner.
It is important to know that when it comes to challenges associated with using online games and the internet in general, you are not alone. If you are based in Cyprus, you can contact the Helpline 1480 and the Hotline 1480 for support.
Find out more about the work of the Cyprus Safer Internet Centre more generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.