How To Keep Kids Safe Online in 2020

Online Gaming Safety

Online gaming is now more popular than ever before. Children of all ages are able to access and play games online. PC, Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo; all of these brands have multiple consoles available and thousands of games across them all. 

Most consoles now have the facility to do online Gaming which allows players to talk, message and play with other players from all over the world.

Most of these consoles allow parental settings which should definitely be taken advantage of if you have younger children. 

With no parental settings, players from all over the world can communicate with your children by talking over headsets while playing games and/or sending instant messages. 

These functions are a great idea if your child is simply communicating with their friends and family. If the settings are wrong, however, anyone can contact them from anywhere in the world. 

This could lead to online grooming, extraction of personal information and indecent behaviour.

Be Safe Online

All physical video games in the UK – those bought on a disc or cartridge – are rated by the VSC, which is the UK’s national video games regulator. 

They rate games using the PEGI rating system which ranks games by suitability of content and applying an appropriate age recommendation. 

The PEGI ratings at present are ranked ages 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18. Although these ratings carry no legal weight in mainland Europe, in the UK the PEGI 12, 16 and 18 ratings are legally mandated. This means that it is illegal for retailers to sell or rent games to persons below the respective age bar. The PEGI 3 and 7 ratings remain a recommended minimum age only.

Once we enter the online world, however, these ratings carry no legal restriction at all and this is where problems can arise for the unwary consumer.

Some online games do carry age restricted recommendations and it is wise to follow these recommendations since the game will have been rated by a national regulator. 

Even then, however, there are still some elements within the online gaming environment that a games rating regulator has no control over. With this in mind, we’re going to highlight some of the things you need to watch out for before venturing into the online gaming universe.

As you are probably aware, when playing online people will generally use an assumed identity – the point being that you simply do not know whom you are playing against. This anonymity allows unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of others. 

The addition of a chat facility also means that you are effectively taking part in conversations which are unregulated and unfiltered, thereby opening yourself up to abusive language or inadvertently giving away personal information. 

It is vital, therefore, to ensure you do not under any circumstances give away any personal information – passwords, real name, address, etc. – to someone you do not know or trust.

Technology provides wonderful opportunities for children, both from an entertainment and learning stance but its very nature is to engage the audience. A game developer's main objective is to make their product more addictive so the user will spend more money. Online gaming is a feature added to help achieve this."

Adam Foster,

In addition, we recommend that you take the following precautions when playing games online:

  • Ensure that you have effective and updated antivirus/antispyware software and firewall running.
  • Ensure that you are playing authorised versions of games which you have purchased from a genuine source and for which you have a licence.
  • Choose a username that does not reveal any personal information. If the game includes the ability to create a personal profile, make sure you don’t give away any personal information.
  • Use strong passwords.
  • Don’t reveal any personal information to other players when engaged in online chat.
  • Be wary of scams and cons when buying or selling virtual goods in the game and for which you are required to pay in real world money.
  • Read the site’s terms and conditions – yes, we know they are long-winded and dull - to make sure there are no hidden charges involved.
  • If and when you finally get rid of your gaming device, ensure that all personal information has been deleted, including account details.
  • Set guidelines and ground rules for your children when playing online; especially limiting the amount of time they spend online.

For more information, take a look at the VSC website where you can find details such as how to set parental controls on a variety of devices. There is also an online e-safety learning tool available to schools and colleges with a particular emphasis on KS2 and KS3.

Most people have little or no trouble when playing games online, but that’s probably due to the fact that they always remain aware of the playing environment they are in and are cautious and careful when playing. To ensure you have a safe and fun online gaming experience too, we would suggest you do the same. Be safe online all of the time!

(The Video Standards Council was appointed as the UK video games regulator in 2012. It rates video games for the UK and Europe using the Pan European Games Information (PEGI) rating system. PEGI is used by over 33 countries and has been in operation since 2002.)

Gianni Zamo, Communications Officer, Video Standards Council

The Video Standards Council was established in 1989 and serves to ensure that retailers of non-broadcast media (video, DVD and video games) are aware of the legislation surrounding the sale or hire of such media to consumers. In 2012, it was appointed as the UK video games regulator where it is required to apply age-restricted ratings to video games sold or hired in the UK using the Pan European Games Information (PEGI) rating system.

Gianni Zamo has been involved in the regulation of non-broadcast media since 1994. In 2010 he joined the Video Standards Council as its communications officer and conducts educational seminars on video games ratings and e-safety to schools, colleges and universities throughout the UK.

Additional Expert Comments

Game ratings

Since PEGI is a Pan European system, the questionnaire is designed to meet varying cultural standards in all the member states. So for example, mild violence may not be a very shocking element in your country, but the swearwords in some games may be. And the same goes for gambling. If a game features gambling, it therefore automatically receives a 12-rating according to the PEGI questionnaire.

The PEGI system has been designed to advise parents and educators about possible harmful elements in a game for children under the advised age. With help of the age rating symbols and content indicators on the packaging of games, PEGI is aiming to assist parents/educators in making sensible buying decisions.

The system is supported by the major console manufacturers, including Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, as well as by publishers and developers of interactive games throughout Europe. 

The age rating system was developed by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE). This was done to create a stable game rating board. Before PEGI most of the European countries had their own rating boards. 

This was becoming a problem for the publishers because it was very confusing and expensive to get all the different ratings. From a consumer point of view a game with more than 5 rating logos on the cover was also very confusing.

All the games that are released on the platforms of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo must have a PEGI license. If those games don’t have a licence, they cannot be published. Some countries don’t allow unrated games in their shops, and in other countries the shopkeepers themselves don’t want to sell unrated games.

PEGI classifies all games and does not censor or ban the content of a game.

To receive a rating, a publisher submits their game to PEGI. After the submission is made, the game is then examined for about 2 to 4 hours. An examiner plays the game and reviews the video footage and documents which were provided by the publisher. 

All the relevant information is bundled in a report and a rating is generated. Before the rating is sent out, one last person (who didn’t examine the game) checks the report and the rating to verify its content. All findings are logged and double checked. After approval, the official PEGI license is sent out.

The PEGI system has 5 age categories, the 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18. These categories are supported by the following content descriptors: Violence, bad language, fear, sex, drugs, discrimination and gambling.

The highest rateable content of a game triggers the rating. Content featured at the lower ages are not shown in the final rating. This way consumers know what type of content defines the age category for a particular game. So, for instance, there cannot be a PEGI 18 Fear, because fear is only featured in the PEGI 7 category.

The above information has been contributed by PEGI, to explain how the game ratings work.

Technology provides wonderful opportunities for children, both from an entertainment and learning stance but its very nature is to engage the audience. A game developer's main objective is to make their product more addictive so that the user spends more money. Online gaming is a feature added to help achieve this. Issues that have hit the headlines in the last 5 years include:

  • Children and young adults meeting people in real-life who they have met through online gaming only to discover they are not who they say they are.
  • Building up huge bills for parents in purchasing new features and levels with tools such as in-app purchasing.
  • Augmented reality which makes a connection between the digital and real world has led to children visiting places in the real world they should not and increase the risk of 'stranger danger.' A recent example of this being Pokemon Go where children have to visit real places to find digital Pokemon on their devices.

We include hundreds of video tutorials on iLearn2 to help parents and teachers restrict and setup devices and games so they are safer for children to use. The main advice we always give is to talk to the child or young adult about the positive and negative impact of technology. Educating as opposed to blocking has far more long term benefits. Screen-time, online gaming and sharing personal information are all very good talking points to discuss, both around the dinner table and in the classroom.

Adam Foster,

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