Family playing video gamesStephanie Brantz has been a sports and events presenter for the ABC since 2010, following stints at both SBS TV and Channel 9. She presents ABC TV’s summer of sport as well as network events including the Australian of the Year and the Gallipoli dawn service on Anzac Day.  Stephanie is mother to three children – Patrick, 18, Lewis, 13; and daughter Lindsay, 11 – and she spends a lot of time monitoring their interests and finding out safe ways for them to participate in the online world. Stephanie is an ambassador for the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association.

When talking about internet safety, specifically in the area of online games, I always come across different opinions from parents about how to tackle the issue with their kids. Keeping your kids away from harassment or harmful and explicit content that might occur during online video games is a difficult and necessary task for parents.  Some parents choose to sit back and ignore the matter, others stop their children from using the internet altogether – can there be a happy medium between the two? I believe so.

We all want our kids to learn about their online rights and responsibilities. Like most parents, I am very busy and, as much as I am a multi-tasker, I cannot constantly be hovering over the computer screen 24/7 watching what my kids are up to. With Safer Internet Day  around the corner, it is a timely reminder for us parents to help our children find a balance between enjoying online video games while being safe. As a veteran in this space, I thought I’d share a few simple (yet hard-learnt) tips you can use to monitor your kids and help them navigate the online world safely.

Tips #1 – KEEP THEM CLOSE

My eldest son often downloads games that are not appropriate for my younger son or daughter to play. I keep the computer and other devices in our lounge room which is close to the kitchen and the other common areas in our house. This allows my husband and I to be close to the devices and see what they are playing, as much as possible. You would be amazed at how much a bit of parental proximity can stop the kids from doing inappropriate stuff on the computer!  Having parental controls set appropriately acts as a second line of defence here.

Tip #2 LAY DOWN THE LAW

I’ve found it really helpful to draw up a set of rules to demonstrate what acceptable online behaviour is, and what is not.  For example, if you wouldn’t say it to someone when you are face to face with them, don’t say it in an online environment.  If you wouldn’t reveal your private details to a stranger in person, don’t reveal them online.

I also like the ‘Grandma Rule’ – if you wouldn’t like Grandma to read it, don’t write it! This rule also works wonders in other social media environments.

Tip #3 SUPPORT ROLE

Although it’s hard at times, we must learn to be a supportive and positive parent, one that listens and takes on board their children’s feelings about being online. Being a tyrant won’t get you anywhere – as I’ve found out! Although you may not have all the answers, building trust around the issues they may encounter, such as cyberbullying, is your key to success. My kids know that if they do experience any kind of negative harassment in a gaming environment, they should let me know right away, and we can deal with it together. You would be surprised how many features exist to help users manage privacy and bullying – from parental controls and privacy settings, to the ability to flag content as inappropriate or report individuals who are engaging in negative behavior. It is a good idea to familiarilise yourself with these settings where possible.

Tip #4 – FANTASY NAMES

I’ve found that by ensuring your kids only use nicknames, usernames or gamer tags instead of their real names, this will help keep minimal personal information about them out on the World Wide Web.

Tip #5 – KNOW THE TERRITORY

Finally, I make sure that I familiarise myself with the sites my kids visit and only allow them to play games from reputable sites. It only takes a bit of extra time but I conduct research, reading online reviews before consenting to my kids playing a certain game. Online video games can be highly educational and social for kids; you just need to make sure they are playing the most appropriate ones for their age and maturity level and that they are aware of both their rights and responsibilities when playing. The introduction of an R18+ classification this year is a suitable reminder that there are numerous online games that cater for young and old and it is important that your kids are playing the appropriately classified games.

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10 Responses to Online gaming – five ways to strike a balance

  1. These are really good things to take into consideration in letting your children play online games. I like best is the “lay down the law.” If you raise your kids well, they’ll respect these rules.

  2. Amelia says:

    In our house we also keep the computer in a very visable spot so not only can we as parents see what is being viewed or played so can any of the other kids. Believe me when I say they keep a close eye on each other. A fun game we came across was farming games online . This is a place where I can join in and I love how they are learning how to take care of things.

  3. Clare Marie says:

    Also play with them! I have my own account on Club Penguin so I know exactly what goes on when my 11yr old son is online, and he absolutely loves it – even calls my penguin his “little sister” :P

  4. Costy says:

    I think the most important rule is that the computer to be located in a place where anyone can easily see what happen. Only the simple fact of knowing that can be seen by others have a huge impact of the kid behavior, but what happens in the moment when he could remain home alone? Will he take advantage of this situation to do things he would not do in the presence of other people, or will behave as if he wouldn’t be alone?

  5. [...] last month, ACMA released a post on ways families can strike a balance in the use of online gaming. Author Stephanie Brantz, an ambassador for the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association [...]

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