What are the risks of online games?
- Children may view inappropriate or upsetting content if they play games that aren't suitable for their age. This could include sexual or violent material. It might be in-game content or produced by other players.
- Some players can be abusive towards others or try to exlude them from the game. Some players may also hack another user's account or try to steal and destroy their virtual possessions. This can be as upsetting for a young person as if it happened in real life.
- Children may play with adults they don't know. People of all ages play games. Some adults may exploit this and try to build an emotional connection with a child for the purpose of grooming.
- Some children may find it hard to stop playing games or find that gaming is getting the way of them doing other activities.
5 ways to help children play safe
Always check age ratings but remember they don’t cover everything. It's important to check the game out yourself before letting a young child play it. If you want extra information about the content of a boxed console or computer game, take a look at the Video Standard’s Council’s Additional Consumer Information (ACI).
Help children understand that people they meet online may not always be who they claim to be. Some games let you mute, block and report other users. Make sure your child knows how to do this if someone in the game upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Childline has online gaming advice to help them do this. Remind your child they can come to you if they’re ever worried.
Remind your child not to give out any personal information, photos or videos to anyone online, even if they know them. If your child plays games with people they don’t know, remind them not to take the conversation off the game, onto other social networks or into a private chat.
Find out more about being Share Aware.
Turn on parental controls on gaming consoles to help prevent children from downloading age inappropriate games or seeing harmful material.
The Apple App Store lets you turn off in-app purchases on iPads and iPhones. And The Apple App Store and Google Play let you create a pin code that must be entered before you buy.
You can also turn on privacy settings on some games to control what other users can see about you and stop strangers from contacting you. Contact the O2 & NSPCC Online Safety Helpline for free on 0808 800 5002 for advice on how to do this.
Have regular conversations with your child about staying safe online. Agree what games are suitable for them to play and help them understand why others are inappropriate. Talk to them about the types of games they may be watching on game streaming sites.
Remind them they should tell a trusted adult, like a teacher or parent, if they see or hear something that upsets them when gaming. And they can talk to Childline for free 24 hours a day if they're ever worried.
Popular online games and streaming sites
Twitch is a social network where you can watch live videos of users playing online games of any age rating or share your own. You can follow people or games and talk to other Twitch members by voice chat or written messages.
Clash of Clans
Clash of Clans is a gaming app that lets you build villages and compete in teams against other players from around the world. You can chat to other players in public or private group chats.
More than just a game?
From Minecraft to Club Penguin, many games allow children to chat with strangers – visit Net Aware for a parents' guide to the safety of most popular social games
Minecraft: a parent’s guide
Choosing the right game for your child
Finding appropriate games for children can seem confusing. But there are lots of games that have been created for children and families. Looking at games’ age ratings can help you to work out what’s suitable.
All boxed games for consoles and computers within the UK are given a PEGI (Pan-European Game Information) rating of age 3, 7, 12, 16, or 18.
These age ratings tell you who the game is suitable for based on the type of content you’ll see when playing. Indicators on the game’s packaging explain why it’s been given its rating. For example, it'll say if the game shows violence, sex, or horror.
Games on app stores also have age ratings. Google Play, Windows Store, Nintendo eShop and Oculus use the PEGI system. But the Apple App Store and Amazon Apps have their own age ratings. Most games distributors will provide information about the game's content so make sure you read before downloading.
Age ratings are a helpful guide, but each child is different. So it's also useful to think about how mature your child is for their age and the kinds of content they'd feel comfortable with.
Age ratings are a valuable tool but they’re only based on content. Even if a game is rated as 3 it may still let you talk to other players, including strangers, through voice chat or instant messenger. You may be connected with players in your local area or from around the world. Many gamers also talk through external gaming forums or chat sites like Skype.
As well as using age ratings, it's best to check the game yourself to see what features it has and decide if it's suitable.
Keeping your child safe online
Talk to someone about online safety
Whether you want to set up parental controls, adjust privacy settings or get advice on social networks, experts from the free O2 & NSPCC helpline are here to help.