It started 10 years ago with games like Snake, the aim to guide your line of pixels around the screen, eating food as you go. It’s easy to forget that your child’s experiences with devices, like your phone or tablet have changed so much. What was an easy decision to just hand them your phone to play with now requires more thought, planning and attention to ensure that their experience is safe, enjoyable and appropriate to their age.
As parents, it’s important that we don’t forget the ‘enjoyable’ part, with so much fear and concern around the safety of children online, their chance to enjoy a game or connect with their friends can sometimes be thrown out the window. Of course, this enjoyment needs to be balanced with their safety and our sanity in a way that’s easy to monitor.
We’re lucky in that there are ways to block digital content based on its rating. Even so, it’s important that with all apps we download for our kids, we give them a go for five minutes. It’s a quick and easy way to make sure that the app is fine for them to use.
This leads to an important point about passwords. On iPhones and iPads, by default you have to enter in your password for every app you wish to download, whether paid or free but on an Android device, typically you only have to enter your password for paid apps, while free can be downloaded at any time. In our household, we make sure to password protect all downloads to ensure that we have control over the games and apps downloaded to our various devices. Like many others, I was guilty of recycling the same password across multiple accounts. But just as we wouldn’t hand over our wallets to children at the check-out counter, parents shouldn’t be so quick to pass them the key to buying games online.
Another growing concern amongst parents when it comes to online games and social networking sites is the risks of geotagging. This is an option on most modern smartphones and tablets that, sometimes set to ‘on’ by default, saves your GPS location to the photo or video itself. So for example, all those gorgeous baby photos you take and upload to Facebook will all have your GPS location embedded inside them. If those photos are shared publically, it’s very easy for people to extract that information and have your baby’s photo, with your home address attached!
The safest thing to do is disable geotagging on your camera app. As an added measure, parents can disable GPS when their child is using the device, this way apps can’t also attach GPS information to posts or content shared.
Finally, the most unpredictable worry for parents is the threat of child predators online. As recent and serious as this threat is, the approach to combat it is the same as it’s always been. ‘Stranger danger’ concepts can be adapted to the internet and educating your children on the dangers and ways to best avoid them goes a long way to making sure they stay safe online.
While it’s easy to see why some parents can get bamboozled by all the tech-speak, and admittedly my own rules of gameplay have been (and still are) drawn up through some trial and error, embracing the children’s fantasy world of games and social networking is not as hard as I thought it would be. Just as parents have had to screen the movies our children watch, the music they listen to and the books they read, the same goes for digital content. For example, many parents might not realise that some of the most popular social media sites such as Facebook have a minimum age of 13 years. Sometimes the most common breaches to a child’s safety occur when parents don’t fully understand the terms and conditions of the games or websites that their children are interacting with. While the language in theses legal documents can be onerous, parents can learn a lot about the website or games in question by doing a simple five minute Google search. There is a wealth of knowledge available online which will help inform parents about what app or game their kids are playing.
Above all, it’s up to parents to keep our eyes on our children. It’s not only a great excuse to avoid housework, but a good way to spend some time with your kids while learning and having fun with them!