Five Safety Rules for Xbox Live Online GamingKim Boatman
Like many eighth graders, Cody Moorehead of Newcastle, Wash., gets a kick out of playing Xbox Live. He “virtually” hangs out with school friends, using the system’s online feature to play football, baseball, snowboarding and Guitar Hero games.
Xbox Live and interactive online features in other game systems have transformed the nature of video gaming. Players aren’t limited to ho-hum family room action but can compete against a multitude of fellow players from around the world. Millions of gamers in more than 26 countries utilize Xbox Live.
What this means for kids and teens is both an opportunity for fun interaction but also potential exposure to dangers such as bullying, harassment, and predators. When Cody doesn’t like the way a fellow competitor behaves, he simply uses a blocking function on Xbox Live to avoid playing that person. You can make sure your kid or teen knows what to do in similar situations.
If you’re kids love gaming, experts recommend these five safety rules so that young gamers can participate safely in interactive online play.
- Monitor your kid’s play
Make sure your child is playing in a family area, where you can easily monitor the action. Take advantage of websites that explain content ratings on games and even tips on accessing parental controls. Sites such as the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), WhatTheyPlay, and GamerDad are informational resources. “Education is a parent’s best friend here,’’ advises Scott Steinberg, a video gaming expert and for the DigitalTrends website, another helpful resource.
Laura Moorehead, Cody’s mom, is careful to know who her child is playing when he first starts online gaming. Just as kids meet in person for arranged play dates, they can also arrange a time to play a friend from school online, says Moorehead. “It’s a comfort level for everybody,’’ she says. Need more information about a game? Try the clerks at your local video game store. They’re often a wealth of knowledge both about the games, ratings and the online gaming experience.
- Use parental controls
Take advantage of the many safety settings available on gaming systems. You can limit access to games with inappropriate ratings, prohibit online access entirely or limit online access to certain hours, says Steinberg. You can receive detailed reports of your child’s online activity and you can control whom your gamer can play. Gaming systems such as Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DSi allow you to access the settings through the menu system. You also can find instructions in the operating manuals or on the manufacturers’ websites.
- Make sure your child disguises his or her identity
Educate your child about the importance of protecting his or her identity. Your player shouldn’t reveal his or her real name, gender, age, phone number or address. Encourage your child to create an avatar, or an online representative or caricature, that doesn’t resemble him or her. If your player uses the chat component, make sure they use a voice-changing feature. You can also use parental control settings to control who sees the profile or bio your gamer creates to explain his or her online identity.
- Report abusive language and behavior
Often, kids worry they’ll lose their online gaming privileges if they report bad behavior. Reassure your child that you can work together to handle these incidents. Cody Moorehead says he has always been able to resolve any uncomfortable situation, either by exiting the game or blocking the player. But he’s also comfortable talking to his Mom about problems that arise.
Report abuse to gaming system administrators or game manufacturers. “Many online titles have dedicated administrators who can address issues of cyber bullying or inappropriate interaction,’’ Steinberg says.
- Hit the mute button
“In games with voice chat components, the mute button can be a parent’s best friend,’’ says Steinberg. In the heat of the game, players may blurt inappropriate comments. If you turn down the volume, you also lessen the likelihood of bullying or trash talking, which can escalate as games intensify.
It helps to take as much interest in your child’s online gaming as you do in their other activities. You might not be a whiz yet, but having your child explain the intricacies of a game will help you understand how to set safe limits.
“Everybody’s busy, but you try to teach good skills and responsibility,’’ says mom Laura Moorehead. “Just be aware of what your kids are doing, what their interests are, who they are gaming with online.”
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