Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Parenting Pointers: Gaming and Cyberbullying

 60 percent of people aged 13-17 have experienced harassment in online multiplayer games, representing 14 million young gamers, according to data from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). 


Parents are looking for ways to help their children navigate the sometimes-cruel environment that online gaming can be. While much of the gaming experience is fun and educational, harassment is all too prevalent. Opening the lines of communication is key so families understand what their children are going through and the best ways to navigate through it.


It’s not just online harassment that’s of concern to those gamers and their parents. The harassment that young people experience in video games can often translate into negative real-world interactions. 16 percent of young gamers in the U.S. reported that, if they encountered harassment,  they treated others worse than usual in real life, and 10 percent reported their school performance declined as well..

  • Over 25 percent of young gamers who experienced harassment in online multiplayer games stop playing those games permanently.
  • 33 percent of young gamers changed how they play in order to avoid abuse, including not speaking in voice chat and altering their usernames. Voice chat is notorious for being a significant focus of in-game abuse.


I had a chance to interview Ron Kerbs, CEO of Kidas, a tech company developing anti-cyberbullying and predator protection software for online gaming platforms. He provides tips on how parents can talk to their children if they’re being bullied while gaming online. He also specifies how parents can be proactive and protective about their kids’ gaming habits. 

Why is it so important for families to realize how prevalent in-game harassment can be?


Having an open line of communication is pivotal when staying up to date with your children’s online habits, whether it’s gaming or otherwise. It’s important for them to understand that gaming can and should be a wonderful experience, but much like the outside world, there are predators with ulterior motives, and kids and their families need to take all necessary precautions to protect themselves. In a recent test with one of the top game developers and publishers, for example, my company Kidas analyzed 10,000 random voice chats and found that 500 of the chats featured sexual content, harassment, asking for private info, hate speech and other threats. The biggest risk to players was sexual content and flaming, which happened, on average, in one out of 25 conversations. To put that into context, a typical elementary school class is made up of around 25 kids; this means that one child in the class is experiencing a threat / cyberbullying in some way. 


What are some strategies families can use to minimize the effects of harassment?


There are certain technologies put in place that can help keep your children safe online. These include the use of parental controls for specific applications and websites, password managers, family-sharing mode and security software. All these technologies make everyone’s online activities transparent and keep your family’s devices safe. You don’t need to be a cybersecurity expert to teach your children basic but essential cybersecurity practices when spending time online. Basic habits such as not sharing their passwords, for example, or being wary of connecting to potentially unsecured public networks, are good places to start.


What benefits can games provide, despite some of the negatives?


We already know that gaming can have a positive impact on children’s cognitive skills, according to a study published recently by the National Institute of Health (NIH) of 2,000 children. They found that those kids who reported playing video games for three hours per day or more performed better on skills tests involving impulse control and working memory compared to children who had never played video games. This research further confirms what some child psychologists have already been advocating for years, that online gaming is an important tool that can positively impact a child’s emotional, cognitive and social skills. Online gaming communities can even be a source for children to learn new problem-solving skills, improve their creativity and socialize. There are also great socializing benefits – providing gamers with ability to think strategically, as well as learning teamwork and communication skills. They can also sharpen their problem-solving skills at analytical tasks due being exposed to these types of challenges in games that kids wouldn't learn at their age otherwise. 

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