Podcast – Episode 1 Companion

Written by Megan N.

Updated: October 29, 2021
 
Episode Background: In the episode entitled “Beta” a 10-year old boy finds himself exposed to derogatory and hurtful language and possibly grooming-type behaviour, behaviour that the child is unequipped to deal with. The child then brings this innocent language to the dinner table and doesn’t expect his mother’s reaction.


What you Should Know About Video Game Chat Rooms:

Privacy Problems – Gamers may ask fellow players personal questions (i.e. What is your name? Where do you live?). Young players may not always be able to grasp the difference between a polite question and an inappropriate or manipulative question. This could happen when a player who is intending to take advantage of or meet a younger player asks for information that will enable the older player to blackmail or hurt the younger player. While most parents warn their kids against revealing their name and address online, more innocent questions, like asking for social media to initiate further contact, may be used to manipulate the child or discover more personal information. Always go over with your child which questions are acceptable to give and receive. 

Addiction – Most of these games are set up in a way that encourages players to keep playing. New levels will be unlocked after a certain amount of gaming, and rewards will be given for levels unlocked and more time spent on a game. Games like The Sims, for instance, reward players for gaming by paying them Simoleons (Sim currency) and punish players who wait too long between gaming sessions by making their sims unhappy and telling them they have missed out on prizes. Because of these consequences, and the fear of falling behind other gamers, it is common for a child to want to spend all of their time gaming, and to feel anxious whenever they go offline. This causes them to lose interest in offline activities and responsibilities and to become solely focused on their game.

Distorted views of reality – Most video games portray a simplified version* of life; complex events  like death and violence are commonplace and no big deal. In a gaming context, this makes sense, and allows players to loosen up and have fun. However when a player becomes overly preoccupied with a game and doesn’t do much else, this may affect their overall worldview. This is especially dangerous when a player is particularly young and impressionable and playing overly sexual or violent games – they will become accustomed to the way things are in the game and accept those attitudes as normal. This makes it harder for the child to accept and understand the consequences of such events in the real world, and the ethical issues associated with them. 

Cyber Bullying:

If a person expresses any behaviour that is harmful towards another, this may be categorized as bullying. Gaming should be fun, and you cannot have fun when you are constantly worrying about another player. People can feel a lot more comfortable being mean through the screen, where there are miles of distance separating users and they cannot see the impact of their words. Bullies may not even realize they’re being hurtful because they cannot see other people’s reactions.

Sexual harassment and blackmail:

Other players, after earning your trust and forming a friendship, may pressure you to send naked pictures or money. If another player asks you to send photos of a sensitive or explicit nature, and you agree even once, that player can now manipulate you into sending more pictures or into doing sexual favours. If you refuse, they can threaten to share the pictures online for anyone (sextortion), whether family, classmate, or random stranger, to see. 

Grooming:

This is the work-up to sexual harassment and blackmail., It is  more subtle and harder to /detect. Players may start off behaving like a friend, asking you about your life seeming sympathetic and concerned. They may pay you compliments or fall into a mentor or older-sibling role. However, they do all this with the intention of gaining your trust to take advantage of you, sexually or financially. 

SAFETY TIPS:

Talk with your child

Talk to your child regularly about the game. Before the child starts game play, go through the system with them and find out if blocking or filters are available. Talk to kids about game play and how they felt about it. Pick a time, preferably after they have finished playing for the day and are winding down, such as when they are getting ready for bed or dinner. Doing so will encourage a healthy flow of non-judgmental, free conversation between parent and children and will encourage a child to be more attuned to their emotions towards the game. They can take a step back and think about situations at a distance, rather than being caught in the moment. This allows them to be  critical and thoughtful about what they see and believe. Seeing their parents’ interest in the game will encourage them to go to you when they feel that something isn’t right, and they are uncomfortable with anything in the game. Tell your child that if a player says anything that upsets you, calmly let them know why it bothered you and ask them not to do it again. If that doesn’t work, in advance of play, walk through the game and find out if blocking is an option. 

Instigate a time-limit for video games

Make this non negotiable – once their hours are spent for the day they must spend their time on other things. Even If they argue, remain firm and remind your child it is important to have a schedule for everything in life so that too much time/effort is not devoted to one thing. 

Monitor Games your child plays

Check the label or search the video game prior to your child playing them. You can find age ratings and descriptions of the game’s level of sexuality/violence/language and gauge from those labels whether or not your child is mature enough to play the game. [another line]

Help your child set boundaries

Tell children which questions are acceptable to answer and which ones are not. Give concrete examples and practice. Giving your age is okay on its own, but it does let other players know that you are a minor. In combination with more personal details like your name or social media, it could put your child at risk of forming an attachment with a predator. Therefore it is best to limit the amount of personal information you give out to other players and consider how it may be used. This is why you should never send any vulnerable pictures (or other media) to other players.  

Be aware of Players trying to manipulate you:

How do you tell the difference between a genuinely friendly player and someone who is trying to manipulate you? The difference can be hard for anyone, adult or child to spot, but key signs include the asking of personal, private questions or making comments centred on age or physical appearance (i.e. ‘You look so beautiful!’, or ‘Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?’). They will also try to keep your relationship secretive, asking the victim not to tell their parents, or putting down friends in favour of the groomer (‘I am the only one you can trust’). They might ask the victim to delete their history or use a device their other family members do not use. All this is done to isolate the victim. Talk to kids about these behaviours or language frequently. Help them recognize what’s healthy or unhealthy behaviour. 

Block/Report unfriendly users

If another player makes your child uncomfortable or upset, remind the child that it is always okay to block a player. If your child has informed the unfriendly player about their feelings and the instigator has not changed their action in any way, the easiest solution may simply be to block the person and forget what they said. Reporting (if available) is a good solution for dealing with people that ask for nude or lewd images (or media). 

Educate. Advocate. Protect.