Online gaming: Help kids play it safe
To help keep your child's online gaming safe, age-appropriate, fun, and educational, start by educating yourself and your kids about the risks. Then follow the practical advice below.
Know the risks of online gaming
Kids might download the bad with the good. When kids download games from less-than-reputable sites or through links in email, instant, or text messages, they might also be getting offensive content, spam, or malicious software.
Some “free” games may require an extensive profile, and then the game owners could illegally rent or sell the child’s data.
Kids might bump into bullies. Some gamers play simply to harass and taunt other players using bad language, cheating, or attacking them inappropriately.
Bad people might befriend kids. Some adults may try to earn the trust of gamers by pretending to be kids, sharing tips on how to win, or giving gifts like points. They may be trying to run a scam or angling for a phone call or an in-person meeting.
Explore online games together
Play with your kids or sit with them while they play. You will have fun and learn about their gaming, too.
Check the ratings of the games your kids want to play. In the U.S. and Canada, most games sold at retail stores are described and rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Use these ratings as you discuss the most appropriate games with your child or teen.
Stick to well-known games or those from reputable sites. If you use well-known gaming sites like MSN Games, Xbox LIVE, or Yahoo! Games, you reduce the risk of downloading viruses or being scammed.
Review the game’s terms of play:
Find out how the game service monitors players and responds to abuse. Xbox LIVE, for example, helps gamers protect their identities and report objectionable content and behavior.
Agree on rules of play. Work together to create family gaming guidelines that fit each child's age and maturity. For ideas, see Microsoft’s sample agreement, the PACT (a PDF download).
Teach kids rules for safer gaming
Keep personal information a secret. Advise kids never to share personal information about themselves or their family with other players—their real name, email or home address, age, gender, pictures, and the like.
Protect game accounts with strong passwords:
Strong passwords are at least eight characters (longer is better) and include a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. Learn how to create them.
Cheaters and hackers most often gain access because they were given a password, so teach kids never to share passwords with anyone (except parents).
Make up a safe gamer name. Help children choose screen names and gamer tags (such as Kinect ID) that do not reveal anything personal, are not suggestive, and do not make kids easy to locate.
Never meet an online “friend” in person without safeguards in place. Younger children should play only with family or friends you already know. Teens need to work with parents to create a safe plan for meeting someone, like bringing along a trusted adult and meeting in a public place, such as a coffee shop or library.
Help kids avoid online gambling. Have open conversations about the potential for gambling addiction (it is highest for youth) and the costs, financial and otherwise. While most video games are legal for minors, gambling is not.
Get help from technology
Defend your computer against Internet threats. Install antivirus and antispyware software. Never turn off your firewall. Keep all software (including your web browser) current with automatic updating.
Use family safety settings to help protect kids. These tools enable you to specify the games your child can play, monitor who children talk to and how, set time limits for play, and control what they see and share. Compare the family safety tools that Microsoft offers.
Learn how to enable these controls on your kids’ devices. Explain to kids what each setting does and how it helps protect—not spy on—them.
What to do if there are problems
Teach kids to trust their instincts. Encourage kids to tell you if anything unsettling occurs—not to keep it secret or pretend it is okay. Make clear that you will not punish them or take away game privileges for telling you.
Teach kids how to respond to objectionable behavior:
If kids play with someone who is hostile, pressures them for personal information, or sends disturbing materials, they should ignore them, ask them to stop, or block them.
Report improper behavior and content to the game service—for example, on Xbox 360 they can use the File a Complaint option.
In the U.S., report content that exploits minors to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at(800) 843-5678.
Immediately report any serious threat. If the child is in immediate danger or someone threatens, harasses, or tries to lure kids into meeting in person, call the local police.