Tech gadgets are undoubtedly among the most popular gifts landing under Christmas trees around the world this year. With all of these tech gadgets requiring connectivity to apps, platforms and cloud services we must plan to protect young digital users by putting proactive measures in place to keep them safe. If drones, VR headsets, gaming consoles and smart phones/devices are on your youngster's wish list, it's important to get on the front foot when it comes to tech gift cyber safety.
PLAN, PROTECT & PREVENT
Most 'smart' tech based gifts require alignment and connection with a mobile phone or tablet App/Application. All of which will require users to create a User Profile and agree to the company's terms of service. Every App has its own set of service policies. We understand terms and conditions can be wordy and long and it is natural to want to move on quickly to the fun stuff. When scanning terms and conditions we recommend looking out for the following key elements:
TIP: Establishing an open and trusting relationship with your children about their digital habits enables you to have greater insight into their online behaviours and opportunities to prevent issues from occurring. A child or teen is less likely to go to a parent if they believe they will banned from future use of a device, game or platform... So be strategic in how you respond when a child does come to you with a challenge or problem. Planning, prevention and protection are a critical combination for ensuring this trust between guardians and children is developed and maintained.
When creating online profiles we recommend you:
Popular Tech Gadget Gifts this year:
Amongst other things, drones can take in some awesome views and share these directly to your smartphone as an image or video. With their long range GPS, WiFi connection and built in cameras, professional (and amateur) photographers are now hitting the skies to take some incredibly creative photos.
Drones are becoming social!
Like most technologies and interest groups, social networking has now become a big player in the drone game. When you connect your Drone to its associated mobile/tablet app, it may also connect you to the SkyPixel. A social networking platform for drone photography enthusiasts. You can upload your flight videos and photos for other SkyPixel members to like and comment. They can become your fan, follow you and send direct messages.
Be wary of location settings!
Like many Drones and associated Apps, The GPS features is a critical element of this technology. With location services turned on, your drone will be able to 'return to home base'. This is a great feature if you're a rookie drone pilot and lose track of your drone mid-flight, however this raises alarm bells for the Cyber Safety Project team when it comes to younger users of this technology - especially when connecting their profile to SkyPixel where users of all ages from around the world can connect with them.
2. Virtual Reality (VR) Headsets
VR Headsets fall into two categories, Mobile or Tethered. Tethered VR headsets connect to a device such as a PC or gaming console. Whilst, mobile headsets generally require the use of a smart phone with app connectivity to enjoy the immersive nature of Virtual Reality. As soon as you are required to download an App for immersive VR gaming or simulations you will be required to 'sign up' to the platform. In this case you must be aware of the games and apps your children are downloading, accessing and what information they may be inputting into this platform to gain access to the game or App. As each game or App has it's own set of terms, features and capabilities the Plan, Protect and Prevent strategy must be put in place.
PROTECT: Monitor the use of these immersive games and check for adult themes and levels of violence.
PREVENT: Set up a safe profile and review the settings to explore what you can control.
3. Gaming Consoles
Create Safe Console Accounts:
Stay in control by accessing the game consoles built in parent controls. These enable parents to decide what content their children can access and which functions that they are able to use.
Disable in Game Purchases:
We have all heard of the credit card horror stories of young children accidently (or in some cases, knowingly) wracking up a hefty credit card bill through in-app/game purchases. After all, who doesn't want some more 'hay' in that farming app at the click of a button, or to upgrade your avatar skin to obtain additional status in your game?
Two key recommendations are:
Understand Online Collaboration Features:
Connecting with strangers online doesn't just happen on Social Media platforms, the gaming world is hyperconnected and highly collaborative. If your children play gaming consoles there is no doubt that they will have access to games that allow them to play, chat and even stream live video with other connected players from all over the world.
Set game play limits and life balance:
Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation officially recognised gaming addiction as a mental health condition. Similar to gambling mechanisms, popular games such as Fortnite make use of bright colours, sounds and reward systems design to keep players within the game. This method is called operant conditioning, where high level rewards occur randomly encouraging players to 'just play one more round' with the chance of a big reward. Not all children will become addicted to gaming, however according to our 2018 Digital Habits Survey, 83% of parents do worry about time spend on gaming and find it challenging to manage screen time and game play. A few things to consider when managing game play and strategies to assist your children with building skills to self-regulate for a healthier balance of daily activity:
4. Smart Phones
Mobile devices including Smart Phones and tablets are the portal to Social Networking and web browsing whereby young children have access to the world in their pocket. If a mobile phone or connected tablet is on this years present list here are some important steps you'll need to take to get it right from the start.
Disable Device Location Settings:
Discuss Posting Protocols:
Access Parental Controls: Here at the Cyber Safety Project we are all for educating young people with safe practices and understanding the importance of safety precautions. There are however some great technologies available to parents to provide peace of mind when it comes to device use and monitoring what they children are exposed to. You may wish to explore software tools such as Family Zone or the new inbuild Family Monitoring features on the latest iOS update (for iPhone).
The craze that is Fortnite: Battle Royale has hit an all-time high during recent months. Released in September 2017, its frenzy and popularity has many parents asking plenty of questions. With school holidays being upon us, it was the perfect fortnight to immerse ourselves in the game Fortnite and learn as much as we could. This blog entry will answer the 3 most common questions, the Cyber Safety Project is being asked by parents about Fortnite and provide some easy to implement tips within your household.
Is there a difference between Fortnite and Fortnite: Battle Royale?
Yes, yes there is! Fortnite is a solo version called Save the World and the massively popular multiplayer version is called Fortnite: Battle Royale. If your kids are asking to play “Fortnite” they're most likely wanting to play Fortnite: Battle Royale version.
The quick summary is that Fortnite: Battle Royale sees up to 100 people participate in a single match together. Players parachute from a party bus onto an island, where they must collect weapons, build structures; all while trying to avoid being killed by other players. While this is going on, a randomly chosen safe zone and moving storm reduces the playing areas within the island and keeps the game moving. All this takes place so that players can ultimately be the last one standing and have “#1 Victory Royale” plastered across the players screen.
Players then quickly reset another match, parachute out of the Party Bus and do it all again and again and again.
Why is my child so interested in playing Fortnite and is it appropriate?
There are many reasons why Fortnite has taken off with children. One is that it combines two extremely popular genres that young children have enjoyed in past - building and survival.
Fortnite allows users to play with friends in Duos and Squads, creating a more social element. Children love the fact that they play with their friends! There are also opportunities to view and watch others playing the game (friends, celebrities, top players) on secondary platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. This again proves challenging with increased screen time in doing so.
For some parents, the cartoonish style of game play and bloodless action within Fortnite and Fortnite: Battle Royale makes the violence seem less problematic; yet there is consistent, encouraged and regular violence throughout every game.
Fortnite: Battle Royale does include live, unfiltered chat between users in the console and PC versions. The voice chat and on-screen text chat are options. Given the average age of a Fortnite: Battle Royale users are men between the age of 18 - 24 years old male, unfortunately this means that users are likely to be exposed to profanity as well as people that they don’t know.
The chat feature can be switched off and is certainly encouraged, if your child is playing collaboratively. In answering whether Fortnite is appropriate it’s important to look at the emotions that are experienced within the game itself.
Children playing Fortnite can become easily frustrated and emotional following consistent failures within consecutive matches. These reactions and management of emotions for younger children derive from desire to do well and win. How a child reacts to a loss or even a win; its importance is often a great indicator to parents to whether the game is suitable or not. Monitoring your child’s ability to ‘switch off’ to do other activities and self-regulate themselves and their emotions should always be a priority while they engage in any digital game or device use.
How can I manage screen time for my children when they're playing Fortnite?
One of the most common concerns that parents raise with us is how to effectively manage screen time within the home. There are some easy measures that can be taken to monitor and manage screen time for children (and adults) playing Fortnite.
When playing Fortnite: Battle Royale, one match can very quickly turn into 15 without limits being put in place. Games usually last around 20 minutes and the quick-fire nature of game play provides an obvious stopping point to ‘switch off’ at the end of a match. However, children that find it difficult to self-regulate get trapped in the cycle of saying “just one more game”.
As a parent, monitoring how many games your child has played can be viewed within the ‘LOBBY’ section. From there you will need to navigate to the users (see image below). This sections details games played and even the total playing time of individual users. This section is great way to set explicit limits around certain number of matches per day.
The images below show you how to find see total matches played and time spent playing.
Our Top 3 tips for parents whose children are playing Fortnite: Battle Royale are:
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.
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.