Updated: Sep 8, 2022
In partnership with Breezeline
Author Elaine Harrison-Neukirch
Online gaming has become the new “arcade” of the 80’s. Kids who game online join communities and groups of gamers. Minecraft, Xbox, PlayStation, and Oculus are some platforms that introduce our children to strangers in a virtual world.
The difference between the arcade gaming community in the 80’s and online gaming is that in a virtual world, you cannot see the “real” people with whom you are playing Predators, scammers, cyber bullies, and others with malicious intent use this to their advantage.
My teen spends many evenings with her online gaming “friends.” Many of which she has never seen via video or met in real life. I have educated her in protecting herself from those who have malicious intent. She is aware that there are predators out there who want to trick children into meeting them without their parents' knowledge or convince them to send pictures. She has also been educated on what information can be shared or should never be shared in the virtual world. I constantly remind her to never give out any personal information (phone number, email, birthdate, address, etc.). The response is always an eye roll and an “I know mom.”
Yes, she knows but is she diligent about being aware of the information she is providing when playing online? She did meetup with one kid who was in the area on vacation, but I chaperoned that meet. I am lucky because she and I have a great relationship and she does talk to me about her “friends.”
I am writing this blog to help inform parents so that they can make sure that their kids know how to stay safe in the virtual world. Not every parent is as versed in cyber safety as I am as a cyber security professional.
Parental Controls and Privacy Settings
Gaming consoles and applications come with parental controls and set privacy settings. For parents of young children and teens, it is recommended that you set these up. Your teens may not like it, but you can inform them that they may either have controls enabled or they do not play. You will need to review these controls on whichever console or application your children are using.
This is something that should also be done on your child’s smartphone, tablet, and computer. Some resources to get you started in setting up these controls:
Information that should not be shared:
PII (Personally Identifiable Information)
This applies to online gaming, social media, and any other platform where you or your children are interacting with strangers. This is how people get catfished and scammed. PII includes passport information, full name, full birth date, financial information, health information and social security numbers.
Other personal information
Kids will get chatting and then next thing you know, they have shared their email address, home address, phone number or other information we do not want strangers to know.
Photos (nudes or other selfies)
Educate your children to notify you if anyone they play with requests any type of photos. This is a warning sign that the person is a predator and not who they claim to be. This should apply to any type of online communications (social media, discord, twitch). This also applies to adults.
Additional information can be found on Cyber.org
Predators are very adept at pretending to be someone else and technology enables them to create a complete online persona that hides their actual identity. A child or adult can easily be tricked by these people and find themselves in a risky situation.
The FBI published this announcement in 2019, Child Predators Use Online Gaming to Contact Children. The article includes additional advice on how to educate yourself and your children. It also includes some scenarios that occurred to people who were lured into meeting predators through online gaming.
It is critical that we, as parents, protect our children. Protecting our children becomes more difficult as technology and virtual worlds become more advanced. Keep communication open and honest with your children. You want them to be wary and report anything weird to you so you can work to continue protecting them. They may feel you are being invasive but will understand that you just need to keep them safe.
About the Author: Elaine Harrison-Neukirch has over 10 years of experience in cyber security working in the healthcare and financial services industries. She currently runs the customer support program at SCYTHE. Elaine advocates for women in cybersecurity; she is a member of both Women in Cybersecurity and Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu. She has been a volunteer for Cyber Security Non Profit for nearly 4 years, her current role is Education Director. This past year, Elaine has spoken at many conferences including Grimm Con, Day of Shecurity, The Diana Initiative, WWHF San Diego and WiCyS 2022. @rubysgeekymom