The gaming world is a juggernaut and a massive way that children and teens spend their time. It is almost impossible to predict what the newest game/app/craze will be that takes the world by storm. Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Words with Friends! Who knows? All of these examples were MASSIVE and unfortunately for their creators many of these games have fallen out of favor amongst children and teens as the next generation of interactive gaming grows.
Now, when looking at the top ten most downloaded applications, 7 of the 10 fall under the 'Social Networking' category. What does that tell us? It tells us that children and teens love engaging with one another online and as a consequence there has been a rise in social networking within games. It's the norm now, and an obvious red flag for parents.
Below are three of the most popular current (this could change next week) games children are engaged in and spending a fair bit of time on. So let's us help you make sense each of these platforms with some key things to consider when deciding if your child is ready to play and engage in these online worlds.
What you need to know about Fortnite?
Fortnite is a survival action game and after watching the promo there is no wonder the kids love it. You are required to create complex forts to defend and protect yourself and team while fighting off a never ending wave of monsters. The game allows voice and on screen chat from other players, which lends itself to inappropriate language from "keyboard warriors". Because of the social networking aspect to this game, the opportunity to interact with strangers is high, which is always a concern. This is particularly prominent in the free to play multiplayer mode, called Battle Royale. This feature allows up to 100 players to fight against each other or in teams to be the last player standing. This does prompt a significant amounts of negative comments and trash talking within this feature is again much higher.
What parents need to know about Roblox?
Roblox is a creativity space that allows its users to design and build their own interactive games. You are also able to play other games in a multiplayer setting. Features within the site include a "safe-chat" mode for those under 13, as well as a parent login that lets you oversee your child's use of the site (we LOVE this feature). However, don’t let the "safe chat" title fool you, parents still need to be communicating with their children about connecting with people who they they've just met and don't know. As a blanket rule, children shouldn't be connecting and communicating with people online that they haven't met in real life before.
A conversation you must have with your kids when broaching these topics is to ask them directly what are the potential dangers that could occur through meeting a stranger online.
What parents need to know about Minecraft?
Minecraft… what a game. Its popularity can't be questioned. It is so popular that education providers have now invested in the software to be used as an educational tool within classrooms because of its wide spread engagement amongst school aged children. But I digress, what do parents need to know about Minecraft?
Minecraft is a 'virtual sandbox' that gives users everything that they need to explore a vast world, acquire resources, and create nearly everything they can possible imagine. Literally anything! Unfortunately this means that from time to time children playing may stumble across inappropriate content when exploring other random worlds. Another popular and unfortunate practice within the Minecraft world 'griefing'. This is where random users intentionally troll players through the destruction of engineered structures that they have made. It is the digital equivalent of knocking down somebodies sandcastle. Heartless I know, however it highlights the many negative outcomes associated with networking within digital worlds. As you can see the opportunity to interact and communicate with others does exists within Minecraft. Therefore children should be carefully and continually monitored while playing or even better disable and hide the chat feature.
Finally, with endless possibilities for creation within Minecraft, the time spent constructing "worlds' can take time. It's important to monitor the screen time and set limits on the usage to ensure children are getting adequate sleep as well as physical activity.
If a game that your child plays isn't on this list, then it is still highly likely that it will still include social networking features within the game play itself. Monitor and check how the game operates to ensure your child is enjoying it in a safe manner.
These games may be obsolete in 6 months time, so remember to continue checking in on what games your children are playing. Check the in-game content, themes and social networking features regularly.
Tuesday the 6th of February 2018 was Safer Internet Day. An international day with the theme to 'create, connect and share respect' online. Countless schools engaged in specific lessons around the awareness of emerging issues on the internet and how to be a respectful and responsible digital citizen. Safer Internet Day is truly a fantastic initiative and has certainly generated plenty of discussion amongst children and adults, with many news and media outlets reporting about it on the day. As great as Safer Internet Day is, we feel it also provides a conflicting safety message. To think that a single day is all it takes to be safe and respectful online is missing the point.
How can we keep the momentum of Safer Internet Day going?
Whilst days like 'Safer Internet Day' act as a timely reminder to all who live, work and play online, this week offers an opportunity for parents (and those who work with young people) a timely reminder to plan a longer term, proactive approach to tackling this complex problem. We highly encourage you to use the momentum of Safer Internet Day to have an informed and productive discussion with your children or the young the people in your care about this topic.
The Cyber Safety Project has developed the following conversation tips cue card outlining 5 questions to ask your child/tween/young adult/mum/dad/granny (as we all should be across internet safety) about their habits and behaviours when engaging on digital platforms.
Questions Rational - Here is the thinking behind each of these questions:
Question 1: “How many followers do you have?”
This can be quite an open ended question that will offer multiple responses. More often than not multiple platforms are being accessed on a daily basis (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Music.ly, Kik) therefore you should seek multiple answers. If the number seems quite high, for example if a 13 year old says they have 346 followers, some follow up questions could include:
Question 2: “Other than Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube what are the three apps you would use the most?”
These social media platforms are the obvious 'BIG 4'. Knowing that their parents and carers use these platforms themselves, young people are seeking alternative social networking avenues. This question provides insight into other social networking sites or games that your child might be using. We can't stress the important of exploring these apps and games for yourself to expose their functionality. Within any App Store Social Networking category, it is generally the second tier apps and games that are being used by younger users. New platforms are constantly being released and reviewed as their popularity rises and falls, each with different ways children can connect and communicate with unknown users.
Question 3: “What time do you think everyone in the house should put their devices away?”
So much of the ongoing research around student behaviour and learning is around the individuals ability to self-regulate. The ability to monitor their own behaviour to positively influence their own well-being. These questions prompt the child/tween/mum/dad/granny to reflect on why the ability to remove oneself from the device and engage with their peers, family and friends is so important. These habits and 'at home' expectations plays a huge part in the overall digital wellbeing of the users and influences the daily usage, device reliance, sleep patterns and wellbeing. Have you and your family got a 'Device and Internet Use Agreement'? It might sound formal but designing this together offers an opportunity to lay down some ground rules and hold each accountable (mum/dad/granny) included. Tip: Parents play the biggest role in setting standards. Modelling and adhering to your families 'Device and Internet Use Agreement' is paramount.
Question 4: "How do you know something is ok to share/post?”
Permission is KING! Too many people, regardless of age, find themselves in hot water because of their own naivety in assuming that something is 'ok' for you to post. Our own digital reputation can be depicted through not only through what we post, but by what other people post of us. So make it reciprocal! Always ask permission before you post a photo of others and expect it in return.
Question 5: "What does it feel like when someone posts something about you online?”
You maybe surprises around why this question is so important! 36% of EVERYTHING that is posted online is categorised as negative, hurtful or inappropriate. Whether it’s the 'keyboard warriors' making comment towards a sports star they don’t like, a negative emoji or a vicious comment towards someone you know, these "negative posts", happen too often. Talking to your child regularly about practical strategies, ways to avoid such negativity online and monitoring will mean their continued online experience is as positive as possible and always at the front of mind.
Knowledge is power, so having regular conversations with your child around their digital habits can give you the best chance at early intervention and support the young people in your care with the best strategies to have a positive digital experience.
We hope you enjoyed these conversation tips, please let us know how your conversations went in the comments or on Facebook!
Cyber Safety Project.
The Cyber Safety Project are committed to staying current in this constantly changing digital world. These blog and vlog posts provide insight to families about new trends, potential dangers online and effective strategies to maintain safe and respectful digital behaviours for parents, children, schools and the wider community.