Ultimate Parent’s Guide to Video Game Safety

Video game safety

Most of today’s parents grew up in an era when computer games were only just beginning to go mainstream.

Some will have grown up playing little more than Pac Man, Alien Shooter, and perhaps Snake on their early Nokia mobile phone. Other might have had a Spectrum or Commodore 64 where you loaded your games via cassette tape and then had to wait twenty minutes (remembering to turn the tape over halfway through) before you could play.

If you’re a younger parent, then the Gameboy, Playstation One or others may ring a bell.

To say the video game industry has progressed since then is a huge understatement. It is like another world, and for many parents, that is a big challenge.

All kids want to play video games. According to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 93% of UK Children play video games.

But there is so much information out there about how parents should manage their gaming and so many different games they want to play.

In this guide, we are going to take a deep dive into the world of video gaming, with a particular focus on kids.

We are going to explain to parents, in terms even the biggest technophobe can understand, what games their kids are playing, how they are playing them, what the potential risks are, and how parents can tackle these.

For a lot of parents, it is a significant issue.

According to Get Safe Online, the UK’s national internet security awareness initiative, 51% of parents worry about their kid’s safety when playing online games and 37% feel they have no control over their kid’s gaming.

There is a lot of information to take in. But if you want to fully understand the modern world of video gaming and help your kids stay safe, it is well worth pouring yourself a big glass of wine and reading through everything.

Once you have finished, you should feel confident and informed enough to approach the issues raised head-on.

Table of Contents

Section One: Children and Video Games

Children and video games

In this first section we’ll cover the types of devices that children use to play games, the kinds of games they play, some of the rating standards in use to govern how age-appropriate they are and cover all the most popular games as of publishing.

Devices

Devices

Let’s begin by considering how your kids can play video games these days. Even this section is fairly complex because there are dozens of different gaming devices on the market these days.

In this section, we will take a look at all the main ones and examine the most popular method of gaming, consoles, in a little more detail:

Desktop and Laptop Computers

Most homes have at least one desktop or laptop computer.

It might be a Windows PC, a MacBook or macOS device, or it might even run on Linux or another type of operating system.

It is entirely possible to play most types of video games on a regular home computer.

Games can either be installed or run from an external source such as a CD or now more commonly downloaded directly onto the computer from the internet or app stores.

It is also increasingly common for people to play games online via their desktop and laptop computers too.

This involves visiting a website and logging into your account, which will then return you to the same point in the game that you left off previously.

Serious gamers are likely to want to play on a specialist gaming PC or laptop.

These devices are designed specifically for playing videogames and feature large screens, high-speed processors, high display resolutions, and high-end graphics and sound cards.

Mobile devices

Mobile devices have revolutionised the world over the past decades and they have had an enormous impact on the way we play videogames too.

Lots of kids either have their own smartphone or tablet computer that they can use for email, social media, internet browsing and more.

These devices are not tailored specifically for gaming and lack the high-end graphics and data processing powers of a specialised gaming PC or a console. But far from stop people playing games, this is simply led to the rise of a different type of game for mobile devices.

Simple, retro-looking games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush have taken the smartphone and tablet world by storm.

These games are easy to play and have low-quality graphics but are designed for touchscreen devices and are highly addictive.

However, with the power of modern phones and tablets, traditional console-quality games like PUBG and COD are now making inroads.

Thousands of games like these have emerged aimed at users of all age ranges. Lots of other games that are popular on other platforms have also launched mobile-friendly versions too.

These games can be easily downloaded from your devices app store. They are often available for no upfront cost too. However, many will contain in-app purchases which can lure users, especially young ones, into spending far more than they should.

This is an issue we will examine in more detail below.

Consoles

The most common and popular way for young people to play video games is on gaming consoles.

Statistics

In the first quarter of 2020, there were 8.2 million UK households with access to a games console.

These consoles can be plugged into a TV or monitor and allow users to play games via discs or, more commonly these days, downloading them directly from the internet.

Modern consoles offer many more functions than merely playing games. A lot also let users stream TV, movies, and other online content, use social media and online chat rooms, and much more besides.

A study from as far back as 2014 found games consoles were the most popular device for video streaming in the USA.

They have a lot more in common with a computer these days than many people realise and these additional functions can bring other risks that parents should be aware of.

We are not going to look too deeply into these additional risks in this guide, but if you want to know more, take a look at our Complete Kids Online Safety Guide for Parents.

There are a lot of games consoles on the market these days and while many people will have heard names like X-Box, Switch, and PlayStation, a lot don’t actually know what the most popular games consoles are these days and what the difference is between them.

So, in the following section, we will outline the most popular, best-selling games consoles for kids:

1. Nintendo Switch

Nintendo has been building family-friendly games consoles for more than 30 years and in the Nintendo Switch, it has created a stylish, compact, user-friendly device that families around the world have fallen in love with.

It is not the cheapest console on the market but it is incredibly flexible, It can be used like a regular console on the stand or taken off to become a handheld tablet device you can carry around with you.

The controllers can be attached to the device for portability. They are small enough for children and adults to use comfortably and have simple easy-to-master controls.

For parents, the Nintendo Switch has activity logs so you can keep track of what your kids are playing.

It also offers parental controls that enable you to restrict online communications, purchases from the Nintendo eShop, and the type of content that is viewable.

While there are grown-up games available for the Nintendo Switch, many of the most popular titles are family-friendly ones including things like:

  • New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  • Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Fortnite (Strictly for teenagers only)

2. PlayStation 4

Sony’s ever-popular PlayStation 4 was released back in 2013 and is available in two designs, the standard PS4 and the souped-up PS4 Pro. A PS4 Pro includes 4K and HDR TV support which is not necessary for most kids so we would generally advise parents to stick to the basic model.

The PS4 gives parents the ability to limit online features, cap spending limits, place age-rating restrictions on downloads and also block access to the web browser. This means parents have plenty of scope to control what their kids can and cannot do on it.

A standard PS4 is competitively priced and the classic PlayStation controller is something that kids are able to master quickly.

Sony has announced that the new PlayStation 5 is coming soon.
It is likely to arrive ahead of the 2020 Christmas rush and will bring with it a host of new features and games. It is unlikely any of the parental controls will be rolled back and more could well be added. We will endeavour to keep readers updated once details are available.

If you don’t use the age rating restrictions, there are all sorts of unsuitable games that can be downloaded.

But there is plenty of family-friendly fun that can be had too including:

  • Minecraft
  • Lego Dimensions
  • LittleBigPlanet 3
  • FIFA 20
  • Rocket League

3. Xbox One

Microsoft’s contribution to the console market is the Xbox One. Consumers can choose between the cost-effective Xbox One S or the more powerful Xbox One X, which is twice the price.

With the Xbox One S carrying almost all the most popular children’s games and boasting plenty of parental controls, it is usually more than sufficient for most families.

With the Xbox One S, parents have the power to block all purchases, restrict downloads to free games only and restrict available content to suitable age ranges.

Options include ‘young children’, ‘child’, and ‘teen’. Another really great feature is the ability to configure the Xbox One S to limit playtime.

Popular games on the Xbox One S are much the same as those that can be found on the PlayStation 4 and include:

  • Minecraft
  • Lego Dimensions
  • Sea of Pirates
  • Rocket League
  • Disney-Pixar’s Rush
  • Super Lucky’s Tale
  • Disneyland Adventures

4. Nintendo 2DSXL

Exclusively handheld consoles are somewhat out of fashion at the moment.

But the one exception to that is the Nintendo 2DSXL, which is an evolution of their iconic Game Boy. This model doesn’t have the 3D capacity of their higher-spec Nintendo 3DS device, but the company themselves do not recommend this model for kids.

The Nintendo 2DSXL is lightweight, with a decent-sized screen and simple controls to the left and right of the device.

If there is a downside to this device, it is the rather modest battery life and handheld devices are, by their nature, harder to monitor than a larger console. Having said that, it does come with the same activity logs as the Nintendo Switch which is welcome.

Popular games on the Nintendo 2DSXL for families include things like:

  • Mario Kart 7
  • Pokemon Sun
  • New Super Mario Bros 2
  • The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (older kids only).

5. Nintendo Switch Lite

Nintendo appears to be the one console company that remains committed to handheld consoles. The Nintendo Switch Lite is the handheld version of their hugely successful Switch console.

Switch Lite cannot be used on a TV and doesn’t have detachable controllers. It also has a shorter battery life and the games library is limited to those Switch Games that have a handheld capability.

The Switch Lite is smaller than the Nintendo 2DSXL but has the same familiar controls. It is available in a choice of four kid-friendly colours and also features Nintendo’s standard parental controls.

Popular games on the Nintendo Switch Lite include:

  • Super Mario Maker 2
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Burger Time Party
  • Gigantosaurus

What type of games do kids play?

Games kids play

In the previous section, we have highlighted a small selection of the games that are most popular with kids on each of the main games consoles available. Many of these games are also available to play on other devices and platforms too.

Some of these games are extremely well-known and you may even have played and enjoyed them yourself. Others may never have heard of some of them and wonder what on earth they are about.

In the following section, we are going to give you the lowdown on games. This is a vast topic and it is impossible for us to provide details on every single game that every child is likely to want to play.

But most games can be categorised into different genres and this means we can help to give you a general idea of what each different type of game involves.

So, here is the VPNCompare lowdown on the most popular video game genres:

1. Action Games

Action Games are usually set in virtual worlds and require players to control a character through a number of different scenarios.

Sometimes, these can be family-friendly challenges but often they are based around violent or inappropriate themes.

An Action Game challenges a player’s reflexes, hand-eye coordination and reaction time. It also generally involves an element of thrill and excitement as well as tactics and strategy.

There are various sub-categories that would usually fall in the Action Game genre.

These include Beat ‘em Ups, where you control a character who has to fight different opponents, platform games, such as the classic Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog games, and arcade and shooting games.

2. Sport Simulations

Sports games are one of the oldest genres of video game and they remain hugely popular.

Sports games generally let you control your favourite player or team in a chosen sport and take on opponents that are either controlled by other players located elsewhere or otherwise controlled by the games own AI engine.

Other games are more focused on the tactics and strategy and allow you to manage sports teams, buy and sell players, and so on.

Sports games have really driven forward video game technology and development and the scale with which games like FIFA 19 have sold are a clear indicator of how successful these games are with sports fans of all ages.

3. Adventure Games

Adventure Games involve complex storylines, plenty of action, and advanced graphics. They involve reflex-based gameplay, item collecting, puzzle-solving, and environmental exploration, which is a flexible enough range of challenges to make them attractive to players of all ages.

The adventure game genre is a broad one and has crossed into almost every different thematic area imaginable. Legendary adventure games you may well have heard of include The Legend of Zelda, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and the Harry Potter games.

4. Battle Royale Games

This genre is a relatively new one that has emerged with a bang over the past couple of years.

Battle Royale games are a type of action game that involves regular battle or conflicts between rival players.

By some distance, the best known Battle Royale title is Fortnite but other titles such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Call of Duty (COD).

5. Role-Playing Games

A role-playing game (RPG) allows users to take control of a character and navigate them through a fantasy world.

The origin of this genre is the board games such as Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warfare, but while these games are easy to stereotype, video role-playing games are a much broader church.

The genre has broadened to include such sub-genres as strategy RPGs, action RPGs, and adventure RPGs. Popular RPG games include Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, and BattleTech.

A subcategory is MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game). This is usually an RPG game that is played online with tens or even hundreds of other players.

Famous games in this sub-genre include World of Warcraft, Runescape and Final Fantasy.

6. Racing Games

Racing games are another of the oldest genres around and they too remain as popular as ever.

Some racing games allow you to simulate your favourite racing sport, such as F1 and MotoGP and the graphics and controls that can be achieved these days make such games almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

But there is a whole other genre of racing games that has leapt into popular consciousness in recent times too which bring elements of action games into the genre too.

The best known of these is the Mario Kart franchise, but there are plenty of other popular ones on the market too.

7. Fighting Games

Fighting games are another well-established and ever-popular genre that can be traced back to retro games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

The genre has seen much innovation, technological, and graphic progress since those classic titles but the basic premise remains much the same. Players have to control a character and pull off a variety of different moves to try and beat an opponent in combat.

This opponent can be another player, an AI-controlled character, or, increasingly these days, also an online opponent from anywhere in the world.

8. Real-time Strategy Games

Strategy games can be divided into two different types; turn-based strategy (TBS) and real-time strategy (RTS). They allow players to control huge sections of massive virtual worlds.

The genre of real-time strategy games can be traced back to a single game and a single person. It was created by Brett Sperry to describe a hugely popular game he produced called Dune 2.

A number of hugely popular and lucrative titles fall under the RTS genre including Age of Empires, StarCast and League of Legends.

9. Simulation Games

As the name suggests, Simulation games allow users to simulate real-world experiences and have huge control over things people usually cannot manage.

The Sim City game is perhaps the best-known simulation game and its various spin-offs are among the most successful games in this genre.

These days, it is possible to find a game to let you take control of just about any aspect of the real world you might care to choose.

Farming simulator, check, Bus mechanic simulator, check, Robot Vacuum Simulator… yes these are all real games.

10. First Person Shooters

First Person Shooters (FPS) are games that allow players to navigate a virtual world and see it through the eyes of their character.

As the name suggests, these games are based around shooting or other types of weapons-based combat that let players take part in battles or wars and often take on other players inside the same virtual world.

Online gaming and virtual reality technology have revolutionised this genre in recent years and it remains hugely popular with games.

It is also a genre of games that many kids want to play, even though a lot of titles are not suitable for them.

The most famous of which being Call of Duty (CoD).

Ratings

Age ratings

Before we profile the top 20 most popular video games with kids right now, it is important to take a look at video game ratings.

If you have ever taken your kids to the cinema or hired them a DVD, you will be familiar with ratings for movies. Video games are also rated in a similar way.

But it is not exactly the same, so it is worth explaining precisely how video game ratings work and what they mean.

Since 2012, Video Games in the UK have been rated by the Games Rating Authority (GRA). This is part of the Video Standards Council which is the UK’s official administrator of the PEGI age rating system which is used in over 30 countries throughout Europe.

Don’t worry if that has confused you because while their bureaucratic structure is hugely complex, their rating system isn’t.

The GRA implements the PEGI system, which only has three rating thresholds:

  • PEGI 12 – A game not suitable for children under the age of 12.
  • PEGI 16 – A game not suitable for children under the age of 16.
  • PEGI 18 – A game not suitable for children under the age of 18.

They will also use clear symbols and words to explain the type of content that the game contains which has caused them to rate the video game in this way.

These include things like bad language, violence, sexual content, and drug usage.

Hopefully, you are thinking this system couldn’t be simpler for both parents and kids to understand. But you would be wrong.

Research carried out by UKIE in 2015 found that only 2 in 5 parents buy their children age-appropriate games.

It also revealed that half of the parents let their kids play games that had an unsuitable rating and just under a quarter (24%) believe it isn’t important to examine games ratings.

These findings are deeply troubling.

Video game ratings are absolutely vital for ensuring that your kids are not exposed to inappropriate content or able to engage with other users over unsuitable platforms.

If you only take one thing away from reading this guide, it should be to stick to video game ratings no matter how much fuss your kids make.

Don’t buy your kids inappropriate games, don’t let them play them, and always check the rating before you or kids make a new purchase.

After all, they’re there for a reason.

Top 20 Most popular video games with kids right now

Popular games

There are thousands of different games out there that are popular with kids and every kid will be playing different ones.

It is therefore impossible for us to produce a guide that covers all of the games you child is likely to be playing.

But, needless to say, some games are hugely popular and regularly played by kids (and adults) across the whole country. So, in this section, we will highlight the 20 most popular video games available right now.

1. Fortnite

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac, PC, Android, iOS
Rating: PEGI 12

Fortnite is the current gaming phenomenon and it is highly unlikely that any kids and many parents haven’t at least heard of it.

It is a free battle royale game where any player can compete against any other player with the aim of being the last man standing.

Fortnite is heavy on violence and its popularity means there are thousands of other players your kids can end up engaging with.

It is only rated as a PEGI 12 game but some parents will want to consider whether it is suitable for younger teenagers as well.

2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the absolute antithesis of Fortnite.

It is based on a peaceful island packed with charming animal neighbours. You can make friends, build your home, and live a happy fun life in this idyllic world.

The worst thing that will happen is being unable to afford some vegetables and this is a game that really is suitable for almost any age.

3. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating

Mario Kart 8 is family fun of the highest order.

Race your friends and family or AI-controlled opponents on a range of visually stunning tracks.

The controls make this game easy for all age groups and the only thing some parents might be a bit wary of is battle mode.

But even that is all good, light-hearted fun and this is a game you will enjoy every bit as much as your kids.

4. Minecraft

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac, Windows
Rating: No rating. 8 years old and up recommended.

Minecraft has been around for more than a decade and is not only an iconic cultural game but also still hugely popular with youngsters.

It is a virtual construction game not unlike an online Lego, that lets you build just about anything in a quirky virtual world.

While the game is unrated, it is not suitable for very young kids. The decision about what age your kids should be able to start playing is subjective but we don’t recommend it for any younger than 8.

5. Roblox

Platforms: Xbox One, Mac, PC, Android, iOS
Rating: No rating. 8 years old and up recommended.

Roblox is an amateur game-maker/player system that doesn’t look all that much but attracts hundreds of thousands of young players from all over the world.

The attraction is the variety of weird and unusual games that are available. You can engage with other players on silly activities or role-playing adult activities.

This, unfortunately, means kids can be drawn into inappropriate activities and even engage with older people.

6. Nintendo Labo

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating

There aren’t many video games that require users to make a bunch of cardboard models, but then Nintendo’s Labo isn’t like any other game.

Build the models and then fit your Switch controller to it and you can do all sorts of fun things from playing the piano to a full-on Virtual Reality world. This is a whole different type of game and will help teach kids lots of different things.

The only drawback is that it makes things that aren’t natural computer games into a video game but depending on your perspective that can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

7. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac, PC, Android, iOS
Rating: PEGI 16

PUBG is an online battle royale game in a similar mould to Fortnite.

Inspired by the cult Japanese movie Battle Royale, the premise basically sees up to one hundred players parachute onto an island and scavenge for weapons and equipment to kill others while avoiding getting killed themselves.

It is by no means a game for kids, hence the 16+ age rating. It features extreme violence and scenes of drug-taking. We would suggest keeping all kids well away from this game, but that won’t stop a lot of them wanting to play.

8. Overwatch

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows 10
Rating: PEGI 12

Overwatch is a first-person shooter game which will put some parents off straight away.

There are some differences to a conventional shooter game though. The characters have unique powers and to win, you have to work together with others.

There is plenty of cooperation and diversity on display but at the end of the day, it is still a game that involves shooting and killing things, which is why it has a 12 rating.

9. Pokemon Sword and Shield

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating. 8 years old and up recommended.

Pokemon Games are still huge with youngsters.

This one is a vast virtual world packed full of Pokemon.

Players take the part of trainers who travel around attempting to become the champion of the land, defeating rivals and amateur collectors to prove they’re the best.

It is a combat game but there is no blood and guts or any other content that could be construed as inappropriate. Nevertheless, we would give this a miss if your kids are under 8 or of a nervous disposition.

10. Rocket League

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS, Windows 10
Rating: No rating.

Quite simply, this is a game which allows you to play football using cars! Sounds like a stupid premise but is actually really good fun for players of all ages once you get the hang of the controls.

You can jump, flip, and boost your cars to do different things. The worst thing for parents is that young kids might get a bit frustrated to begin with.

11. Sea of Thieves

Platforms: Xbox One, Windows 10
Rating: PEGI 12

If you can imagine everything you would possibly want from a pirate game, you will find it in Sea of Thieves.

This huge immersive world lets players team up with friends and strike out to explore and take on adversaries.

There is a fair bit of violence, but some fantastic graphics. Definitely not one for under 12’s, as the rating shows, but teenagers who still like pirates will love it.

12. Super Mario Maker

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating

Super Mario Maker brings all the fun of a classic Mario platform setting into an educational format where players can design and develop their own levels.

It has a powerful but user-friendly level editor tool with a massive range of options that will keep all budding games designers occupied for hours. An impressive addition to the Nintendo Switch range.

13. Kingdom Hearts III

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Rating: No rating. 10 years old and up recommended.

An anime role-playing game that lets you hang out inside Disney and Pixar movies sounds like a mecca for kids.

But actually, Kingdom Hearts III, despite not having an age rating, is only really suitable for older kids.

It is all about stopping an evil force from taking over the universe, so inevitably there is lots of violence and dark magic involved. But it is great fun for older kids too.

14. Crossy Road (and Disney Crossy Road)

Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows 10
Rating: No rating

This is a retro arcade-style game which takes the old joke about ‘Why did the chicken cross the road’ way beyond anything you thought possible.

The aim is simply to get a chicken across an endless series of roads and other obstacles without dying.

It is absolutely free with no in-app purchases to lure your kids in. This is lucky because Crossy Road and its Disney spin-off are ludicrously addictive.

15. Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows 10
Rating: No rating. 10 years old and up recommended.

Players of this bizarre game can choose to control either hordes of zombies or living vegetables.

Both are armed to the teeth and wage war in a huge and rather bizarre virtual world.

There is no shortage of violence but it is not of the bloody kind so older kids should still enjoy this. Some parents will be understandably wary though.

16. Splatoon 2

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating. 7 years old and up recommended.

This is a paintball-based shooter game with the stated aim of covering the world with as much paint as possible.

It is set in a manga-style underwater world and is bright, colourful, and rapidly becoming Nintendo’s latest smash-hit franchise.

Fine for most kids, but it is a shooter so probably best for young kids to be steered away.

17. Super Mario Odyssey

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating. 7 years old and up recommended.

Mario is back in a 3D world in this fun adventure game with impeccable graphics.

The characters explore a sprawling and semi-realistic virtual world and have lots of fun doing it.

There is some mild, non-graphic violence and magic which younger kids should probably keep away from.

But generally, this is a Mario adventure game at its best.

18. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: No rating.

The Legend of Zelda probably needs no introduction to many parents as it has been around a long time.

Links Awakening is an ideal entry point for the next generation of games into this fabulous fantasy world.

It is a 2D world which users can explore at their leisure without so much of a risk of getting lost or losing focus.

It is great fun and there is not really anything for parents to be concerned about, other than not seeing their kids for days at a time.

19. Untitled Goose Game

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS, Windows 10
Rating: No rating.

Stealth games usually involve a considerable amount of violence. But untitled goose games just let you take the part of a goose and go about annoying people.

The graphics are gentle and simple, the music is soothing, and the game is great fun. Parents and kids will get addicted to this one.

20. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: PEGI 12

The video game equivalent of Avengers: Endgame.

This title brings all the most iconic video game characters into a single game. And what do they do? Fight, fight, and fight some more.

Its chaotic and violent but very accessible and good fun. But this is definitely one for the teenagers and younger kids should steer clear.

Section 2: The risks of video games

Risks video games

In the first section of this guide, we have provided detailed information about how kids engage with video games and which games they are playing.

We have touched on some of the risks that these video games can pose to children, but in this section, we are going to delve a little deeper into those main risks, explain how video games expose kids to them and offer some suggestion about how you can mitigate those risks.

Biggest Video Game Risks

Biggest game risks

1. Violent content

Violent content

Lots of video games contain violence of one kind or another.

Action games, first-person shoot ‘ems, fighting games, adventure games; the list of genres that could contain violent content goes on and on.

As a straw poll, of the 20 games we have profiled in the previous section, 14 contain some form of violent content.

More detailed research from the USA suggests that of those games that require an age rating, more than 90% contain some form of violent content.

Furthermore, the researchers state “that violence is often portrayed as justified, fun, and without negative consequences.”

Much of this content is inappropriate for younger people to view.

But with most people downloading games these days, it is actually easy for kids of any age to play pretty much any game they want unless parents make use of parental controls to prevent this.

It is obvious to most parents why it is not a good idea to let kids play games which contain excessively violent content. If a game contains something you wouldn’t want your kids to watch in a movie, they shouldn’t be playing it out in a video game either.

Not every parent agrees with this of course. And frankly neither do scientists.

There has been no shortage of research into the issue of how violent video games affect people’s behaviour in real life with no categorial conclusion being reached.

But there is a growing body of evidence that they can have an adverse impact on the behaviour of kids.

The UK’s Centre for Educational Neuroscience has examined a range of different studies from around the world and reached the conclusion that violent video games can make children more likely to be more violent themselves in real life, either as children or when they grow up.

A good example of this is a clinical trial held in 2019 at Ohio State University.

It found that kids who play violent video games were more likely to pick up a gun and engage in violent behaviour than kids who didn’t. To be clear, this test was run using a disabled firearm.

It asked pairs of children aged between 8 and 12 to play one of three versions of the popular video game Minecraft – one with a gun to kill monsters, another with a sword to kill monsters and a third non-violent version with no weapons or monsters.

After 20 minutes, they were then asked to play with other toys in the room, which included a cabinet with two disabled handguns.

The study found that 62% of those kids who played the version including a gun, touched the real weapon. They were also more likely to pull the trigger. Only 57% of those who played the sword version touched the gun, while just 44% of the non-violent participants did.

The study concluded that “the violent versions with guns and swords were significant even after accounting for other mitigating factors including sex, age, trait aggressiveness, exposure to violent media, attitudes toward guns, presence of firearms in the home, interest in firearms and whether the child had taken a firearm safety course.”

How to mitigate the risk

If you are worried about your children playing violent video games and the potential harm this could cause for them, there are a number of steps you can take to protect them.

  • Ratings – Monitor the ratings of the games your kids are playing carefully to ensure that everything is suitable for their age. Ratings are there to help you, so be sure to use them.
  • Parental Controls – Most consoles and other devices offer a range of parental controls that let you control what your kids can and cannot access. Make sure you study these controls and make full use of them to stop your kids accessing inappropriate content and downloading games you don’t approve of.
  • Communal gaming – Make sure all gaming devices are located in a communal area of the house. This means that your kids can’t hide away in their bedroom playing what they want. Instead, you can easily monitor what games they are playing and ensure they are suitable.
  • Communicate – This is the most important tip of all. If you try to ban your kids from playing certain games that their peers are playing, they will fight back and the chances are your kids are far more tech-savvy than you. They might find a way around parental controls, use tools like VPNs to help them download games without your knowing, or just go and play these games at a friend’s house. Talk to your child from a young age. Explain that some games are not suitable for them and they shouldn’t be playing them. Reach an agreement on their gaming habits that satisfies them and you. Monitoring by consensus will be much more effective than monitoring by instruction.

There is more on this in the final section of this guide.

2. Other inappropriate content

Other inappropriate content

Much of the focus of the video game content debate is on violent content, which is understandable given its how prolific it is.

But that doesn’t mean that violence is the only type of inappropriate content that kids can be exposed to through video games. Other examples of inappropriate content that parents have expressed concerns about in the past include things like:

Drug-taking/dealing – Many video games contain scenes of drug-taking or drug dealing. They can glamourise the use of drugs and even encourage players to take part in drug-related crimes.

Sexual content – Lots of 18+ games can contain sexual content of one type of another. This can range from characters dressed in revealing clothes all the way up to scenes of sexual intercourse and rape.

Racism – While there aren’t that many video games that contain overtly racist content, ethnic minority characters do tend to be portrayed in a negative manner in many games. Non-white characters can be depicted as stereotypes and are often overly muscular, athletic, or aggressive. Non-white characters are also rarely the heroes in these games and are disproportionately cast in the roles of criminals/bad guys.

Sexism – Video-games have an even bigger problem with gender stereotypes.

Statistics

A recent study found that 41% of video games have no female characters at all, 21% portrayed women as victims, 28% showed them as sex objects, and only 15% had female characters as heroes.

Female characters are also far more likely to be sexualised or wear revealing clothing while they regularly have an unrealistic body image with enlarged breasts and skinny waists.

This is a far from an exhaustive list and there is no lack of other issues that parents have raised.

These issues are endemic within the video game industry, which continues to be driven by market forces and the demand for content like this.

As a result, it is down to parents to ensure that their kids are only playing games featuring content they are comfortable with.

How to mitigate the risk

The advice for protecting your kids from other inappropriate content is much the same as for violent content.

  • Ratings – Monitor the ratings of the games your kids are playing carefully to make sure it is suitable. Ratings will also detail the type of content a game contains, such as scenes of drug-taking and sexually explicit scenes. Be sure to make a note of this and if you want to check whether a game is suitable, do some further research.
  • Parental Controls – Use the parental controls on your kid’s device to ensure they can only access the content you are happy for them to play.
  • Communal gaming – Ensure all gaming devices are located in a communal area so you can keep an eye on what you kids are playing.
  • Communicate – Again, communication with your kids is critical. Video games are fantasy worlds but young minds are impressionable and it is easy for things they see in this virtual world to translate into how they understand the real world. Talk to your children regularly to ensure they know that the virtual worlds they inhabit are not reality. Not all Russians are Soviet spies and not all women dress like that. The better your communication, the more confident you can be that your kids are not going to pick up bad habits or unhealthy perceptions from the games they are playing.

3. Addiction

Video game addiction

Video game addiction is a very real problem

It has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a genuine mental health issue, referred to in medical terms as gaming disorder.

It is important for parents not to confuse this serious mental health issue with a child that is simply overusing video games.

Lots of parents think their kids spend too much time playing video games. But that doesn’t mean they can be defined as an addict.

The WHO definition of gaming disorder is defined “by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

The negative behaviour must have persisted for a period of at least twelve months and resulted in difficulties with family, friends, socializing, education and other areas of functioning.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Director of the National Centre for Gaming Disorders said of the WHO decision to classify gaming disorder, “I am fully in favour of taking a public health approach and bringing in a regulatory body to oversee the gaming industry products currently causing great concerns to parents and professionals.”

If you have read this question and are concerned that it does apply to your child, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is your child fit, healthy, and sleeping enough?
  • Is your child engaging with friends and family?
  • Is your child engaged and achieving in school?
  • Is your child doing other games, hobbies, and activities beyond video gaming?
  • Is your child enjoying and learning from their gaming?

If you can honestly answer yes to the majority of these questions, then your concerns about your child’s video gaming habits are probably misplaced.

That doesn’t mean your kids might not be spending too much time gaming and you might want to engage with them to cut this back, but it does mean that their gaming isn’t classified as an addiction in the medical sense of the world. This is good news.

How to mitigate the risk

If you find that you are answering no to the majority of these questions, then your child could well be classified as having an addiction to video games. This means you will need to step in and take steps to address their problematic gaming habits.

The WHO suggests a few things that parents should try and implement, including:

  • Establishing screen balance guidelines (time limits).
  • Having a digital detox.
  • Using creative methods to balance your child’s tech and non-tech related activities.
  • Ensuring all games are age-appropriate.
  • Monitoring how your kids interact with devices (whether they regularly get aggressive or irritable with their games).

There are several organisations out there that can help with video game addiction and we have listed a few of the best further down this article.

Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to your GP or other medical professionals if you have real concerns. They will be able to put you in contact with professionals who can help.

4. Other mental health concerns

Mental health

Becoming addicted to video games is not the only mental health concern that has been raised about gaming. There have been various other concerns put forward by mental health experts and others over the years.

Earlier this year, NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch warned about the risk of kids playing video games being exposed to gambling-like mechanisms and the prospect of this causing them problems with gambling in adulthood.

She called for a crackdown on gambling-like mechanics in games, including clearer indications of the odds of obtaining items and a ban on things like loot boxes in children’s video games.

“Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes,” Murdoch said. “No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.”

Gambling is not the only concern.

There have been scores of different research papers looking into the psychological impact that playing video games can have on children.

A fascinating article in Psychology Today outlines a fairly typical experience that most families will recognise if they have kids who play video games a lot. It is well worth reading in full, but we will summarise it below.

Essentially, they outline the scenario of a child who plays games during a family event.

It explains how the game overstimulates and excites the child and raises his heart rate and blood pressure.

It outlines how the bright lights make the child think it is daylight even though it is actually the evening and liberal amounts of dopamine make him happy and alert.

It also outlines how the heightened visual stimulation means his body moves blood away from organs he isn’t using like his gut, kidneys, liver, and bladder, and towards his limbs and his heart. It is exactly the response people get when they are in danger.

Then, when his mother takes the game off him, his reaction is one of extreme anger and violence precisely because of the psychological and physical impact the game has had on him.

The psychology professor who wrote the article explains that the long term effects of these experiences are not dissimilar to those of chronic stress.

“A hyper-aroused and mentally depleted child will have trouble paying attention, managing emotions, suppressing impulses, following directions, tolerating frustration, accessing creativity and compassion, and executing tasks,” she explains. “All of these effects are compounded by screen-time disrupting the body clock and hindering deep sleep.”

It would, however, be wrong to assume that all video games can have this effect. There are a growing number of video games that are specifically designed to help players relax and destress and some of these are deliberately targeted at children.

The BBC has recently added a game to their popular CBeebies Go Explore app called ‘Your Mindful Garden’.

Voiced by the omnipresent Stephen Fry and developed by mindfulness experts, it features a variety of simple, well-conceived games that help children relax, focus, and clear their minds.

How to mitigate the risk

There is a myriad of different mental health issues that can arise from playing video games.

For parents, the key thing is to be aware of your child and if you see changes in their behaviour or personality that you think could be down to their gaming, don’t be afraid to tackle the situation head-on.

There is no shortage of help out there should you need it, so don’t be afraid to go to a professional if you want advice. You can talk to your GP, your pharmacist, or one of the support organisations that are detailed in the final section of this guide.

The hardest part will be tackling such an issue with your child. But hiding away from the problem isn’t going to make things go away. You are far better to tackle the issue head-on and address your concerns with your child.

Don’t go flying in like a bull in a china shop. You know your child best, so use an approach that is likely to get through and try and make them see things from your perspective.

It is also important not to try and strong-arm them. If you simply ban them from playing games, they will just find another way to do it outside of your sphere of influence where you will not be able to monitor and support them.

If they are gaming too much or playing games that are inappropriate for them, discuss this with them and reach an agreement on how things can change.

We also have some suggestions on how to approach this in the final section of this guide too.

5. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying

For many kids, being able to escape into an online world can allow them to forget about real-life problems for a while. But this is not always the case.

If you have read our Complete Kids Online Safety Guide for Parents, you will know what a big problem cyberbullying can be for kids all over the world.

Sadly, cyberbullying is also something that occurs in the world of video gaming.

Online games allow people to interact with each other anonymously. While the majority of players are perfectly harmless, there are some that get a cheap thrill out of tormenting other players.

Sometimes, cyberbullying within games comes as part of the gameplay itself. There are various techniques that more experienced players can deploy to make the game less fun or much harder for more inexperienced players.

This includes things like “kill stealing” where another player deliberately conquers or captures needed quest targets before another player can get them.

Or there is “chaining” where they force groups of high-level challenges together to prevent low-level players from being able to advance or killing them off altogether.

While this may seem like childish and trivial stuff to you, for a child whose friends are all progressing in a game, it can have a really detrimental effect.

Then there are the more recognisable forms of cyberbullying.

Most online games that pit players against each other include features that allow players to chat or message each other.

These platforms allow players to target hurtful or offensive messages directly at any specific player they want. Other games might have chat boards too where it is possible to shame and offend players publicly

Some cyberbullies might even attempt to seek out a player’s social media or email accounts and torment them on other platforms too.

How to mitigate the risk

If your child is being subjected to cyberbullying, the best response is to make sure they know what options are available to them.

Most video game chat rooms or messaging features allow you to block other users who are sending you unwanted or unsolicited messages.

These messages are also often a breach of the terms and conditions of the game and there will be a mechanism in place to report users who are bullying or abusing other players.

Be sure to take a screenshot of any abusive messages and report them to the game administrators before blocking the other user. It is quite likely that they will be suspended or even thrown off the game altogether.

Communication is also key.

Cyberbullying is not something your kid should have to go through alone. Make sure they know that they can come to you, their teachers, grandparents, or any other responsible adult they trust and talk about this issue.

Be sure to find out the mechanisms that are built into the games that your child is playing and inform them about it.

You should also have regular conversations with your child about how to share safe online and make sure they don’t hand out private information in video games that they might end up regretting.

6. Online Privacy and Predators

Online gaming predators

That final recommendation about safe sharing online segues nicely into the next big risk that can come with playing games; privacy.

Because many video games allow and even encourage players to interact with each other on message boards or in chat rooms, there is always a danger of younger players being exploited by older ones into sharing information they shouldn’t be.

It is not uncommon for a seemingly innocent chat about the game to escalate into asking personal questions or requesting private information or alternative contact details.

If your child does share details such as their real name or email address, it is then relatively easy for someone to trawl the internet and find out a lot more about them, including such details as where they live, where they go to school, and their social media accounts.

This could lead to two principal risks:

i. Identity Theft – Armed with this personal information, a malicious gamer could steal the identity of your child and use it to play and log-in to online games, impersonate them on social media, or even set up bank accounts and run up debt in their name.

ii. Grooming – Even more serious is the risk of grooming. Grooming is the process of building a relationship and emotional connection with a child, so they can then manipulate, exploit and abuse that child. Video games are popular with children, so are a popular place for abusers to meet, interact, and begin to manipulate and exploit their victims. Grooming can take the form of sexual abuse, but can also involve religious extremism, drug dealing, or even human trafficking. The process of being groomed can be remarkably quick and yet cause lasting damage, even if it remains a virtual relationship.

How to mitigate the risk

The key recommendation to help your child to keep their information private and minimize the risk of grooming through video games is to teach your child from the earliest possible age not to share personal information online.

They must understand that other people who they engage with through a video game are still strangers and they shouldn’t share any information with them that they wouldn’t tell a random person they met in the street.

When your child sets up an account on a new video game, they should always ensure that it doesn’t include any aspects of their real name or any other identifiable information. It is also a good idea to use a VPN to enable your child to hide their true IP address and location too.

You should help them to do this and communicate with them regularly about the risks of engaging with strangers through video games and what they should be doing.

Try to monitor their communications as much as you can but make sure you create an environment where your child feels safe and comfortable talking to you if something bad happens.

It is never advisable to meet someone you have engaged with through a video game in person, but if your child insists on this, make sure you accompany them and stick with them at all times.

Crucially, if you do suspect your child has been subjected to grooming online, or if they tell you about an incident, be sure to report it.

In the UK, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command should be your first port of call. Other countries have their own national bodies and you can always tell your local police force too.

7. Malware

Malware

Kids can be very spontaneous and if they see a game in an app store or advertised online, they will often just open their app store and download it.

The problem is that it is pretty easy for hackers to modify apps and upload malicious versions into app stores such as the Google Play Store or Apple’s app store.

Often, these malicious apps are almost indistinguishable from the real thing and in their haste to get playing kids may not notice the difference.

But once they have downloaded this app, the chances are it will not work properly as a game. But what it will do is download malware, adware, ransomware, or any number of other malicious programmes onto their device.

More likely kids can be pushed to unofficial app stores where supposed ’premium’ apps are available for free. They may be modified versions of the original that contain unknown issues and malware.

The results of this can be catastrophic.

It can result in your device being infected with a virus that sends all your personal details back to the hackers.

Sometimes, it will inject huge numbers of often inappropriate adverts onto your device.
It could even enable hackers to take control of your device, access your camera or make it part of a botnet.

Malware is a constant threat in all online activities and video games are no exception.

How to mitigate the risk

If you want to avoid your child inadvertently downloading infected games, the best approach is to oversee all of their downloads.

Most devices include parental controls that allow you to block all downloads unless you give specific permission. This should stop your kids spontaneously downloading something malicious.

But what if you are not sure how to be certain whether the game you want to download is the real deal or not?

There are three key rules that you can follow to give yourself the best possible chance of staying safe:

  1. Use your cyber-security software to scan the files of any game you download to make sure they are safe before you open and install them.
  2. Read recent reviews and news stories about a game to see if there are any reports of malware
  3. Research the game’s developers as well as the vendor or marketplace. If they have a poor track record, it is probably best to avoid this game too.

The other key thing is communication once again.

Just policing your kid’s download habits won’t necessarily prevent them from downloading things without your knowledge.

Make sure they know about the risks and how to avoid falling victim to malware and infected apps too.

8. Hidden Fees and in-game spending

In-game spending

Once there was a time when you bought a video game and then played it as much or as little as you liked. This was a simple time when the video game industry was built on a model of targeting units sold.

These days, games are far more complex and technically advanced, yet many are free to download and start playing. This is because the payment model has shifted from up-front payments to in-app purchases.

The benefits for the developers is obvious. Up-front payments caps the amount of money you can make for each player at a relatively modest amount.

In-app purchases have no such limits. Some players might spend nothing, but others will pay many times the cover price of a video game in order to progress. Kids are particularly susceptible to this.

The social enterprise ParentZone, which provides support and information to parents, children and schools about safe internet use, recently published a report entitled Rip-Off Games.

It reported that three-quarters of young players felt online video games tried to make them pay out as much as possible while around half said games were only fun when they spent money.

The report focused a lot on the issue of loot boxes, a type of in-app purchase in which the player doesn’t know what they are going to get and which critics have compared to in-game gambling.

Statistics

Loot boxes are worth around £700 million a year in the UK alone, according to ParentZone.

It is not just kids who are worried.

According to a recent report in the Guardian, almost half of the parents of teenagers share these concerns, which represents a significant year-on-year increase.

The end-results of in-game purchases can be horrifying and you don’t have to look too far to find a scare story.

The same Guardian story reports on an anonymous charity worker whose son ran up a credit card debt of £1,200 in just a couple of weeks playing Harry Potter and Boom Beach on her iPad.

The BBC has also reported on a number of different cases – such as the children who spent almost £550 on player packs in FIFA on a Nintendo Switch, the 16-year old who spent nearly £2,000 on EA Sports NBA Basketball game, or the 5-year old who tried to spend £300 in in-app purchases on the game Mini Golf King.

The striking similarity among all of these cases and the hundreds more out there is the lack of responsibility taken by those in the industry.

App stores like Google Play will generally refer people in this situation to the developers of specific games and refuse to refund money.

Anecdotally, it seems that most developers will refuse to issue refunds, citing their terms and conditions, while a few will offer a token amount as a “gesture of goodwill”.

Of those cited in this article, only FIFA issued a full refund, but they did also insist on removing all the players bought from that version of the game too.

How to mitigate the risk

There is mounting pressure on game developers to put more controls in place to prevent these types of cases happening and stop children from being able to spend such huge sums of money on in-app purchases.

But this is a lucrative trade so it should come as no surprise that there has been significant feet-dragging and resistance from within the video game sector.

Legislation is a possibility to put the issue right, but with government often distracted by other concerns, this is likely to be some way off.

So, for now, the responsibility lies primarily with parents to monitor their kids and ensure that they cannot spend money you haven’t approved. There are some tools out there to help.

Some consoles and devices have parental controls that enable you to block or cap any downloads or purchases that you don’t explicitly approve of.

You can also ensure that your credit card is not directly linked to any game or app store you have downloaded.

This will mean you have to enter details every time you do want to purchase something but should stop unintended spending.

For example, Apple offers tools like ‘Family Sharing’ and ‘Ask to Buy’ which alerts parents if a child is trying to make a purchase.

It also lets you disable in-app purchases entirely through its settings. Xbox also allows users to set up child accounts that will enable parents complete control over purchases.

Speaking to your child is also essential and it is never too early to start.

Try to ensure that they understand that when they download games or in-app features, they are spending real money. Explain how you earn this money and what you need it for.

Most kids don’t actually realise they are spending real money, so getting this message across early should help your kids to become more responsible gamers.

The positive benefits of video gaming

Gaming positives

We have written a lot about the potential negative impact of your kids playing video games and it would be understandable if you were starting to wonder whether it is worth letting your kids keep playing at all.

So, in this section, we are going to highlight some of the many positive impacts that video games can have on a child, that you should also bear in mind.

i. Decision-making

Video games are fast-paced, action-packed, and require players to make fast decisions that can have profound and significant consequences within the game.

This is a valuable life skill and one that can come into play if there is an emergency, in school or the workplace, or in life more generally.

ii. Eyesight

It is a widely held misconception that video games can damage players eyesight.

Actually, several studies have shown that eyesight is actually better in those who regularly play games.

This is because gaming makes players use their ocular focus more intensely, thus honing the sense far more than in non-gamers. This is especially true of fast-moving action games.

It can also help players discern between different types of grey light which also has long-term benefits such as when driving at night.

iii. Enhanced ability to learn

It is said that learning a language makes our brains more flexible and thus makes learning generally much easier.

Well, video games can have a similar effect.

A study carried out by University College, London and Queen Mary’s University found that the action strategy game StarCraft “led participants to manage more information sources during game play, thus leading to enhancements in cognitive flexibility.”

In other words, fast-paced games can make players better at learning.

iv. Hand-Eye Coordination

This is the one benefit to gaming you might have come across before. Hand-eye coordination is a key skill in all sorts of professions, from brain surgeons to car mechanics. And it is a crucial skill that video gaming can help develop.

This is a scientifically proven claim too.

A University of Texas study found that High School kids who played 2-hours of video games a day were better at virtual surgery than medical residents who don’t have time to play video games.

This does not mean kids who play video would be better at actually performing surgery, but it does highlight their high-levels of hand-eye coordination which has the potential to benefit them in all sorts of ways in the future.

v. Improved focus and attention.

Believe it or not, far from proofing a distraction in school and elsewhere, playing video games can actually help young people to improve their ability to focus and lengthen their attention span.

Tests carried out by researcher Vikranth Bejjanki which compared the ability of kids who played video games and kids who didn’t, to complete a variety of perceptual tasks, found that the gamers performed much better in a number of areas including the ability to focus and pay attention.

vi. Help treat depression

There is a widely held misconception that playing video games can lead to depression. This is not, apparently, the case.

Researchers in New Zealand ran a trial involving 168 kids with an average age of 15 years old, who had previously shown signs of depression.

The trial was split in half with one group receiving counselling and the other playing the video game SPARX, a game specifically designed to provide therapy to teenagers in a way that’s more active and enjoyable than regular counselling.

The result was that the group playing SPARX did better at recovering from depression than those receiving counselling.

vii. Being sociable

Again, there is a perception that playing video games is an anti-social pursuit.

But modern video games actually involve a lot of interaction between players either within the game itself or via the messaging features and chat rooms that most games include these days.

Statistics

In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that over a third of teenagers had made new friends while playing networked multiplayer games.

This number is likely to be far higher these days.

In an age where people of all ages are spending more time than ever networking with people on social media and through our smartphones, many kids are building social connections through their video games.

Is that so very different from the rest of us?

viii. Grow up

There is also a line of argument that playing video games in a controlled and structured environment helps kids to mature.

The BBC cites Oxford University Psychology Professor Andrew Przybylski making this argument.

He claims that moderating screen time and finding time for video games alongside schoolwork, chores, and other responsibilities and demands on your time is a valuable practice for growing up and becoming an adult.

So, far from being a childish pursuit, in the right environment, playing video games can help you to mature into a responsible adult faster.

Section 3 – How to let your kids play video games safely

Gaming safely

As we have addressed the various risks and issues in this guide, we have made suggestions about how you can mitigate the risks and help to keep your child safe when playing video games online.

In this section, we are going to pull all of that advice together into a single safe video gaming guide.

There are no guarantees. But if you follow the advice laid out in this section, you will be giving yourself the best possible chance of keeping your child safe and healthy when playing video games.

1. Communication

This has been a theme throughout this guide and it is at the very top of this list of recommendations for a reason.

You need to ensure that you have open lines of communication to your child. Talk to them about online gaming and make sure they are aware of the possible risks.

Communicating well with your child lets you share these key messages with them but also gives them a line of communication if they ever encounter anything while playing games that they are worried about.

That might be cyberbullying, in-app purchases, grooming, or anything else.

It is also a good idea to make yourself part of your kid’s online gaming world. Show some interest and enthusiasm for the games they are playing. Try to understand why they enjoy them so much and share in the positive experience of gaming.

Even better, why not play the games with them?

One online safety group, Internet Matters, strongly recommends parents playing online games with their children as a means of helping to keep them safe.

We concur with this and while we appreciate it is not always possible to play every time if you engage with your kid’s gaming, they are far more likely to come to you and talk if something happens they are uncomfortable with.

2. Age Ratings

All games in the UK are legally required to be subjected to an age rating check and it is against the law to sell video games to anyone under the age they have been rated.

But that doesn’t mean kids cannot get hold of games that have been classified for a higher age, especially since most games are downloaded directly from the internet these days. Often, parents are happy to buy age-inappropriate games for their kids.

Age ratings are important if you want to stop your kids from viewing content that is not suitable for them, so it is vital that all parents take age ratings seriously.

You should retain control over what games your child can and cannot download, either by using parental controls on a device to restrict spending or the types of games that can be downloaded.

Be sure to communicate with your child about why they are not allowed to play certain games and when they will be allowed to.

3. Time limits

It is easy for kids to get sucked into games and want to spend more and more time playing. This is a potential route to addiction and should be avoided.

All parents should limit the amount of time they allow their kids to spend playing video games.

But this is something that you should seek to agree with your kids rather than force upon them.

Talk to them about the benefits and risks of video games and why it is important to have other interests too.

Agree on a limit on the amount of time they can spend playing games each day or each week that allows them to do their homework, enjoy family time, and indulge in other pass-times too.

An excellent way to reach an agreement is to devise a family agreement.

This is something you can develop together which covers all aspects of online activity and applies to all the family, including yourself.

Some template family agreements can be found here:

4. Monitoring

It is important to keep an eye on what your children are doing when playing games. There are various bits of software you can buy or download to monitor their activity, but the best method is to ensure that all gaming devices are kept in communal parts of the house.

Make sure games consoles are only used in the living room and children are not able to go and hide away in their bedroom to play games.

This makes it easy for you to wander in and out of the room and keep an eye on what they are doing.

This has the twin benefit of helping you to stay engaged with their gaming and also letting you make sure they are not doing anything they shouldn’t be.

5. Parental Controls

All gaming devices come with parental controls, but usually, these are not enabled by default. It is your responsibility as a parent to familiarise yourself with these controls and use them appropriately.

Usually, these are detailed in a device handbook or otherwise a simple online search will reveal details.

Controls will include things like stopping your kids downloading inappropriate games, preventing them from spending money or even limiting the amount of time they can spend using the device.

6. Stranger Danger

Most parents will remember the warnings about stranger danger from when they were kids. That has a very different meaning these days.

There is a much smaller risk of a stranger approaching a child in the street these days and a much greater risk of them being contacted online.

Games are an ideal platform for strangers to groom your child or exploit them in other ways.

Teach your child as early as possible that if they talk to someone online, in a video game or anywhere else, they may not be who they say they are. Their name, age, picture, and everything else may not be accurate and they could have malign intentions.

Teach your children not to share images or personal information with anyone they meet online.

They should only talk about topics they are comfortable with and never agree to meet in person or accept gifts from someone. If someone does cross the line, your child should be comfortable to talk to you or another responsible adult and report that person to the game administrators.

7. Stay private

It is not just groomers who might be chasing your child’s personal information through video games. Hackers and other malign actors also use video games as a platform to steal personal information.

Your child should be aware of these risks and you should teach them never to reveal private details such as their real name, home address, mobile number, email address, or financial information.

All game accounts should be set up with an anonymous name and try to ensure that all devices you kids use for gaming are protected with antivirus software and a VPN.

8. Dealing with bullying

As part of your communication with your child, you should be having regular conversations about bullying.

As part of that, be clear that bullying is unacceptable in any form and online bullying through video games or any other platform is just as bad as playground bullying.

Ensure that your child is comfortable talking to you or other responsible adults about the issue and knows how to tackle cyber-bullying if it arises.

They should know not to respond to bullying in any way. Take a screenshot of any offensive messages and then speak with an adult.

You should help them to report the bullying to either the game administrators or other suitable bodies and help them to block the person involved, so the incident cannot be repeated.

9. No power to spend

The best way to avoid your kids running up huge bills by either downloading games or buying in-app purchases is to ensure that you retain control over their online spending.

Parental controls on most devices will let you control what can and cannot be spent and some will even let you block in-app purchases altogether. Use these tools but be sure to explain to your kids why you are doing so, so they will understand and won’t resent you.

If your device doesn't have such controls, make sure any payment details and credit cards are removed from all games and app stores to ensure your kids cannot inadvertently use them.

If you don’t mind buying things occasionally, it is much better to put up with the inconvenience of entering your card details than finding yourself seriously out of pocket.

Where to turn for advice and support?

Advice support

In this guide, we have attempted to provide advice and guidance on how to deal with all of the main risks that are associated with playing video games.

But there may be times when you or your kids are in need of some additional support.

Fortunately, there are a number of different organisations and resources out there that can help and we have provided details of a few of the best below:

A Visual Guide to the issues of video gaming

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<a href="https://www.vpncompare.co.uk/parents-guide-video-game-safety/"><img src="https://www.vpncompare.co.uk/images/vpncompare-video-game-infographic.jpg" alt="Kids Video Game Safety Infographic"></a>

Infographic on Video Game Safety

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Conclusion

Conclusion

There is an awful lot of information to take in in this guide, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t remember all the relevant details.

This guide is going nowhere, so feel free to refer back to it at your leisure and pick through the bits that are relevant to your own circumstances.

In this guide, you will find information about how your kids play games, what type of games they play, and details about some specific titles that are popular with young gamers right now.

We have dug down into some of the main risks associated with kids playing video games and explained the data and research behind these risks and the best ways for you as parents to tackle them.

In the final section, we have also detailed a plan to help keep your child safe when playing video games. This compiles recommendations from organisations across the UK and beyond and aims to be as comprehensive as anything you will find online.

Video gaming doesn’t have to be dangerous and, as we have also explained, it can be beneficial to children’s development.

But parents need to be involved with their child’s gaming world. They need to communicate, monitor, and where necessary, intervene to ensure their kids stay safe and healthy.

In this guide, we have detailed exactly how you can do that, so please feel free to share it with other parents, your child’s school or wherever else you think it may be useful.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 3 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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