Social Games Advice for Parents
Denise Lisi DeRosa, Cyber-Sensible.com
The specific concerns parents have about social games are very similar to the overall issues parents have with regard to technology: time spent, interaction with strangers, and inappropriate content. So what can parents do to address their concerns? Parents can empower themselves to take the lead in online safety instruction. Following are my top 5 tips for parents to get started.
Keep an Open Dialogue
First, I tell parents the most important action they can take is to talk to their kids. Ask them about the games they are playing. Learn what the goals of the game are, how it is played and try to get your child to verbalize the skills needed to succeed. Don’t be judgmental or dismissive about their game playing. Keep an open mind and try to understand the attraction to the games they like to play. Social games, along with other online games are an important part of socializing today for kids so part of the draw is the ability to play and discuss strategies with friends. Plus, social games help kids to develop digital, cooperative and problem solving skills that they will need for future success.
Use Resource Guides
Next, educate yourself with the age ratings and guides available. Most app stores have their own ratings systems, other than Google, which uses the International Age Rating Coalition. The Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings guide for the US and the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system for Europe are also useful to consult. Do bear in mind that there are slight differences between the systems used although they will all help you to make an informed decision about what games are appropriate for your family. For mobile games, you need to know what content may be inappropriate but you also need to be aware of any interactive elements of the game such as a player’s ability to interact with others, sharing of personal or location information and in-app purchases. It’s best to do some research ahead of time so you are ready to explain to your kids the reasoning behind the game restriction decisions you have made. (Click here to see Smart Social Gamers’ advice on age ratings [link], in-app purchases [link] and privacy and security [link])
Set Parental Controls
The games industry has responded to concerns for child safety by creating parental controls and settings virtually across the board. For example, all of the major app stores for playing social games – iTunes, Facebook and Google Play – provide tools which enable parents to restrict their child’s access to apps according to age; turn on and manage app and game downloads; choose what types of app downloads you’d like to allow (free, paid, both or none); and restrict in-app purchases. For example, on Apple apps you can restrict access to all apps rated 12+ or on Windows you can actually block specific games and types of content. See here for further information on parental controls [link]
Set Ground Rules
Discuss and set the game playing rules up front. You can even agree to an Online Safety Contract. Whatever your rules may be (for example no gaming before homework is complete, no gaming after 9pm, no in-app purchases, no rated M games) make sure you agree to the terms with your kids before a new game is handed over.
Play with Your Kids
You are likely going to lose, but… try the game. Show your child you are interested in what they are playing and you want to understand their interest. You may not be the most challenging opponent, but you’ve made the effort to understand why they like to play.
Parenting today’s digitally connected kids can be challenging. But you can do it! It’s not unlike parenting itself. Take one step at a time, tap in to helpful resources, learn as you go and be present.