Online games can be great fun for your child, but make sure you can help them manage the risks.
Many games can improve your child’s coordination, problem-solving and multi-tasking skills, as well as help build social skills through online interactivity with other players. But it is also important to understand what might go wrong and have a negative impact on your child.
How common is it?
81% of children aged 8 to 17 have played an online game
64% have played a multiplayer online game with others
52% have played with people they did not know
17% have experienced bullying or abuse while playing a network game with others
34% have made an in-game purchase and this rose to 45% when they played a network game with others
How to create a safer gaming environment for your child
- Locate the computer or games console in an open area of your home, or if your child is playing on their handheld device, get them to do it in the family room.
- Install current security software on all devices to protect against viruses, malware and other online threats.
- Activate parental controls and safety features on the device or in the app or browser. These controls can help restrict access to certain content and limit spending on in-game and in-app purchases.
Build good habits
- Help your child to protect their privacy online — get them to use a screen name that does not reveal their real name.
- Teach your child not to click on links provided by strangers, like ‘cheat’ programs to help with game play, which might expose their device to viruses or malware.
- Agree on strategies to help them to switch off, like a timer that signals game time is nearly over, with consequences for not switching off.
- Talk regularly with your child about their gaming interests and who they play with online. Help them understand the risks.
- Play alongside your child to get a better sense of how they are handling their personal information and who they are communicating with.
- Monitor the time your child spends online and keep a look out for any changes in their activity, school or social behaviours.
- Encourage your child to tell you if they experience anything that worries them or makes them uncomfortable.
Be aware of what they are playing
- Games vary in their level of violent or sexual content, and may contain themes, language and images that are unsuitable for your child.
- You can check the age guidelines and classification for an individual game on its website or product packaging.
Empower your child
- Wherever possible, help them make wise decisions for themselves, rather than tell them what to do.
- Try to provide them with strategies for dealing with negative online experiences that will build their confidence and resilience.
Is your child spending too much time gaming?
There is no magic number of hours, but your child may be spending too much time playing games if their gaming starts to have negative impacts on them or your family.
Look out for signs such as:
- less interest in social activities like meeting friends or playing sport
- not doing so well at school
- tiredness, sleep disturbance, headaches or eye strain
- changes in eating patterns
- reduced personal hygiene
- obsession with particular websites or games
- anger when being asked to take a break from online activity, or appearing anxious or irritable when away from the computer
- becoming withdrawn from friends and family
In some cases, setting firm limits as a family may be enough to help address too much gaming. But there may also be underlying problems like depression and anxiety that are linked to problematic internet use.
Grooming and bullying through in-game chat
Network games involve multiple players — in some cases even hundreds or thousands of players.
With these games, your child could be communicating with strangers, including adults, through web cam, private messaging or online chat, increasing the risk of contact from online abusers, or bullying from other players.
- Children aged 11 to 12 are most likely be bullied by other players, with around 22% in this age group reporting a bullying experience, compared to 17% of multiplayer gamers overall.
- 42% of young people bullied while gaming online responded by turning off the in-game chat function,
- 41% ignored the bullying and 38% stopped playing a game with the person.
- Nearly 30% reported the bullying to game moderators.
Help your child maintain their privacy
- Encourage your child not to share personal information like their full name, birthdate, address, phone number, school name or identifiable photos.
- Suggest they use an avatar or other image with a screen name that does not reveal their real name.
- Warn them not to talk to another player in private chat or game chat mode.
Be alert to grooming behaviour
- Tell your child to notify you immediately if a stranger tries to start a conversation about something inappropriate or requests personal information.
- If you suspect your child is being groomed online, you should report this to your local police
Support your child if they experience bullying
- Encourage them not to respond or retaliate.
- Keep a record of the harassing messages.
- Help them block, mute or ‘unfriend’ that person from their players list, or turn off the in-game chat function.
- Help them report the behaviour to the game site administrator.
- Read more advice in our guide to cyberbullying for parents and carers.
Limiting in-game purchases
Some games may be free to download but require payments to advance beyond a certain point or to access additional content not available in the free version — like special powers for a character. Similar incentives to buy may also be offered in paid games.
Talk to your child about costs
- Point out that games, apps and extra features can cost real money.
- Set a reasonable weekly or monthly spend for apps, games and data, and help your child track their usage so they can make good choices.
Use parental controls
- Ensure you have set the parental controls on mobile devices and gaming consoles to limit in-game and in-app purchases, so your child has to ask to buy additional items.
- Consider keeping passwords for the App Store or Google Play to yourself so your child cannot purchase apps and add-ons without you knowing or set up ‘family sharing’ so any purchases must be approved by you.
This material has been adapted with permission from the Australian Government eSafety Commissioner. Permission to adapt content does not constitute endorsement of material by the eSafety Commissioner.