Eavesdropping on online chat: What your child is really hearing, and why it matters

Recently, the US television program Good Morning America listened in on the conversations of seven 11-year-old gamers as they battled it out on two popular multiplayer games featuring online chat. What they heard can only be imagined - because it was too obscene to be broadcast. (See the report here.)

The parents whose kids took part in the study were shocked. They had previously felt comfortable because they could see what their children were up to online. It had not occurred to listen as well.

Hello, stranger!

In Fortnite and Apex Legends, the two games that were tested, the default mode for play includes online chat with anywhere from one to 100 strangers. Other multiplayer games can involve literally thousands of players online at once - many of whom will be adults.

So it’s no surprise to learn that 64% of Australian kids aged eight to 17 have played a multiplayer online game with others, according to figures from the Office of the eSafety Commissioner - and over half (52%) have played with people they don’t know.

And what’s wrong with that? 

Experts point to four main concerns:

  • Exposure to unmoderated obscene or profane speech 
  • Peer pressure to make in-app purchases
  • Cyberbullying and lower-level harrassment
  • Grooming by predators

64% of Australian kids aged eight to 17 have played a multiplayer online game with others, according to figures from the Office of the eSafety Commissioner - and over half (52%) have played with people they don’t know.

Profanity How problematic is it? That depends on your personal values, the age of your child, and the amount of time they’re spending online. One thing is certain however: If your child is participating in online chat, they will inevitably be exposed to an unbroken stream of strong language. Some parents are perfectly all right with this, and trust that their children understand the difference between what’s acceptable  in the heat of online battle (as it were) and what’s acceptable offline. 

shutterstock_157265240SOLUTIONS: Turn off online chat in settings in the individual games and on the individual devices your child plays. (Find out how here.) Talk to your child about appropriate and inappropriate language, and the importance of context. 

Peer pressure This is something many parents don’t consider, but it’s a fact - and needs to be addressed and discussed with your child. Research shows conclusively that children are significantly more likely to make in-game purchases when they are networked with others.

SOLUTIONS: Disable in-app purchases in the individual games and on the individual devices your child plays. (Find out how here.) Involve your child in a discussion to set clear boundaries purchases and to establish consequences if agreed limits are exceeded. Consider a written contract you both sign.

Bullying and bothering The research shows that in the 11- to 12-year-old age group, more than one in five gamers report an experience with online bullying. This usually (and sadly) because they’re seen as ‘easy targets’ by older, more experienced players. 

A much larger percentage of young gamers experiences negativity that’s not damaging enough to warrant the label ‘bullying’  but can still be disturbing and unpleasant.

shutterstock_1437316001SOLUTIONS: Disable in-game chat entirely in the individual games and on the individual devices your child plays. (Find out how here.) In the case of bothersome, but not bullying interactions, encourage them not to retaliate but rather to de-escalate the situation by ignoring it or refusing to take it seriously.

Address bullying by helping your child block or mute that person and help them to report the behaviour to the game’s site administrator. 

It’s a tragic fact of digital life that any online space that attracts our children will also attract predators - often posing as peers.

Grooming It’s a tragic fact of digital life that any online space that attracts our children will also attract predators - often posing as peers. Online chat gives predators the opportunity to establish a personal relationship with potential victims out of the earshot of adult guardians, the first step in the grooming process. 

SOLUTIONS: Disable in-game chat entirely in the individual games and on the individual devices your child plays. (Find out how here.) 

Teach your child to maintain their privacy by not sharing any personal information online (including full name, birthdate, address, phone number, school name or identifiable photos), and to refuse requests for private chat from strangers. Be sure your child knows to notify you immediately if a conversation becomes uncomfortable or inappropriate.

What else you need to know

  • Kids are tech savvy - and if mum and dad can learn how to turn off chat features, they can certainly figure out how to turn them back on. That means it’s not good enough to simply flip a switch. Children need to understand what the dangers are and why safety online is ultimately their responsibility.
  • Threatening to take devices away is an understandable reaction - but it’s also demonstrably counterproductive, teaching children that it’s better to conceal online difficulties than to discuss them openly.
  • Individual in-game parental controls can be effective, but only Family Zone can protect your gamer on every device, everywhere - from gaming consoles to smartphones. 

 

 

 

Family Zone is the one-stop cyber-safety shop preferred by thousands of families and school communities across the globe. Find out why,  and start your free trial today.

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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, in app purchases, cyberbullying, grooming, digital parenting, online chat

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