Playing games on computers, phones, and consoles has been popular since the dawn of devices, but with the internet thrown into the mix its popularity has boomed. There are over 1 billion gamers worldwide and according to Broadband Search, 41% of gamers play on a personal computer, and 36% play on a smartphone or console. While many games are still single player, most of the games currently in development and circulation have online features, allowing users to play games with other gamers or their friends over the internet.

As with any avenue of the internet, you will find that there are risks associated with online gaming.

Many kids and teens use online gaming as an escape from the real world. They can be whomever they want to be. Nobody knows their name or what they look like so this gives them the freedom to pretend to be anyone. Unfortunately, a lot of youngsters use this power to verbally abuse, harass, and intimidate teammates who aren’t as good as them in a game that they’re playing. Online games almost always have some form of chat available between gamers, whether it be voice chat or text chat, which makes it even easier for cyberbullying to occur.

Online games give predators an opportunity to lure in younger victims to “bond” with them over their shared gaming experience and will often move to other platforms to continue talking. Sometimes the predator will go as far as to try and isolate the victim from their friends and family by providing the victim with the illusion that they are the only one who truly understands them. Be wary of any gamers your child starts speaking to regularly and attempt to verify their identity.

Beware of hidden fees when it comes to games online. Many online games use the “freemium” model, meaning that it’s free to play the game and you get access to some of the content for free, but in order to access the full extent of the game, such as avatar skins, season passes, or additional levels, you are required to pay for the game. This is most often seen with mobile games. “Free” mobile games generated over $61 billion in 2018 alone, and much more since then. If your child is playing these kinds of games, ensure that there is a password required before any purchases can be made from the app store or in-game.

While there are many risks to be wary of, online gaming can be a fulfilling and positive experience. It can help improve problem solving and strategizing skills as well as social skills. It can also help youngsters learn how to cooperate with one another and promote creativity. Online gaming is here to stay so all we can do is try and learn how to protect our young ones as they navigate the digital world.