With the growth of mobile gaming, more and more young people are spending money online and becoming digitally social. Here are some tips on what to know to ensure your child does this safely and responsibly.
Mobile gaming is a hobby enjoyed by adults and children alike, but young players are unlikely equipped with the discipline to set boundaries with mobile devices or digital literacy to deal with inappropriate online behavior.
This quick guide will cover some of the potential dangers associated with mobile gaming today and how you can help your kids and teens safely navigate them.
Mobile games are generally downloaded from either the Google Play Store (Android) or the Apple App Store (iPhone). Avoid downloading games from lesser-known sites or opening files sent by other gamers. These games may infect your devices with dangerous malware or other viruses.
Parents should look for a rating system to inform them about the game’s age appropriateness and the nature of the game’s content. Also, check out what kind of permissions the app is requesting. To gain access to information like location and contacts, or to get access to features like your camera and microphone, apps need permission. You or your child may be asked to give permission when you first download the app, or at the time the app first tries to access that information or feature. Pay attention to this to ensure your young gamer doesn’t inadvertently give away personal information.
Set a Budget
In-game monetization is increasingly exploitative. Many games are free-to-play, but these games make their money through advertising and/or offering in-game purchases (e.g., clothing, weapons or special abilities). These offers are extremely tempting for young players who can spend wildly if left unchecked.
Set a budget and stick to it. Parents should make sure that game and phone controls are not set to auto-purchase or upgrade. Parental controls on the phone itself can also help by restricting content by age rating or requiring a password for in-app purchases and app downloads.
Cyberbullying takes its toll on different people in different ways. While some children/teens may show an immediate change in their behavior, others may do a better job of hiding it. Be on the lookout for things like:
- Noticeable changes in device usage (an increase or decrease)
- Avoidance of social situations
- Intense emotional responses to their device (e.g., anger, sadness, laughter, etc.)
- A need to hide the screen or device when around other people
- Avoiding discussions about device activity
Most schools have introduced anti-bullying policies to address cyberbullying, but when the behavior is serious enough, cyberbullying can also be a crime.
Many online games are designed for group play, which likely means your kid is playing with someone they don’t know. Most of these games have built-in communication functions like private messaging or real-time voice broadcasting. Depending on the game, these functions can be disabled.
Parents and caretakers should have direct conversations with children and teens about what they may hear, see or experience in the gaming world. Let them know certain behaviors can have serious consequences—like if someone asks him or her for any personal information or to meet up in real life, encourage your child to tell an adult immediately.
For many families, questions around phone use and access are starting earlier than ever. Rules and boundaries that start from a young age tend to stick better and reduce disagreements later, so consider implementing the following strategies as soon as possible:
- Model healthy phone behavior to reinforce time management for kids
- Keep offline options in every gathering space (e.g., board games, puzzles, crafts, books, etc.)
- Pick a specific day, or time of the day, for tech-free time
- Use a screen time limit app
- Reward good behavior
Mobile gaming is a great way to have fun, but like many online activities, it can threaten privacy, home security, and even your family’s health if you’re not careful. Review these guidelines with your family to start a conversation about safe mobile gaming today.