Play online with your kids. It is safe for them, and it can be fun.
I have talked in the past about testing all the apps before you let your kids play them, but I didn’t take that thought further, and I have always felt that I needed to elaborate on it more thoroughly. We already know we have to test every app thoroughly. We know that we have to load them on our device and use them for a while before fully understanding them and knowing if they are appropriate for our kids. It goes further than that, however, once you have the apps that your kids play, keep playing them yourself. Stop as you want, but every so often goes back and try them again. Play those with your kids too.
First, this allows you to know if the software changes for the worse. I went thru this on Instagram several years ago. When it first came out, it was simply a place to post photos and share them. I used it for a while, and it was harmless. I allowed my then thirteen-year-old daughter to have and use it. Shortly after, unbeknownst to me, the developer changed the app from a basic Shutterfly style photo platform to a social network. Once I learned this, my daughter and I had to have several conversations about what it was, what it became, and how or if she would continue using it. Since then, I have always kept the apps I approve loaded on one device and periodically, I go back, log in and take them back out for a spin.
A second thing this allows you to do is to be a part of your child’s online interactions. It helps you see what is being said in the group chat, it is fun, and it builds bridges between you and your children. As a parent of a teen I have learned and am often reminded that you will not be with that child much longer. Having something in common with them, something to do and talk about together maximizes the time you can spend. In short, the more fun you are to be around, the more they will want to be, and the longer. This thought also goes past gaming and device time, and it is more important than just keeping tabs on them. Having this time, this open interaction with your kids keeps you human and approachable to them. Something that is very important once they start to go out and experience life in the real world. If you are approachable, human, trusted and fun, they will be much more likely to come to you when they have non-game issues in life. If they are used to reaching out to you for help and advice with a clan problem in some app, or an interaction issue with someone on the game server, then it will just seem natural for them to reach out to you when they have an issue with someone at school, a kid at the park, or questions about life and hard choices. In my opinion, short of keeping them warm, safe and fed, there is nothing more important you can do with your child than build a relationship of love and trust for them to rely on and fall back on later.
Third, if you are present in the game and on the chat, you can hear and see when someone is misbehaving. You can pull your child aside and discuss that activity with them before it becomes a problem. You can see when a game that seemed harmless or even was at the time of purchase has changed into something dangerous or less savory for them. You can have conversations with them about what is happening, and because you were there and can site specific examples, they will be less likely to disregard your opinion, or openly deny something. They have the chance to see that you are fair and that even though they may have to give that game experience up now, you will be giving it up with them and will be moving on to some other game with them.
Fourth, if your child is playing online with school or neighborhood friends, there will be some point where someone else’s parent decides that some interaction was appropriate. If you child is online without you, and you have never been on with them, you have no idea how the game works, and you don’t understand the mechanics of the human interactions, your child can be blamed for some inappropriate activity and you have no idea if you have a real problem or not. Not only can you not properly defend you child in that situation, but you also cannot properly correct them if they did do or say something wrong. If however you are online with them, and someone’s parent decides to comment, you can step in, explain exactly what happened, and mitigate any issue before it starts. It is also strangely satisfying to look down your nose at someone else’s absentee parent and tell them there is no issue and they would have known that if they were engaging with their children too. Also, if there is an issue, take it from me, there is no faster way to stop an online issue than to respond to the bully personally in a game when they say something threatening or demeaning to your child in the game. Everyone, your children, and their friends, all act more appropriately when there is adult supervision. The game is still fun, it is just tempered with restraint, and that can be a good thing.
Lastly, because I am playing with the kids online, they are all more comfortable with me as a person. I am not going out of my way to be the cool parent or anything, but just being there, all my kid’s friends are more comfortable around me. I am not that creepy, scary old man, but instead, I am the guy in call of duty who holds over-watch with the sniper rifle and does a good job because he is older and more experienced. Also, so that I don’t embarrass anyone, I let my kids pick my gamer tags. This can be fun, a little playful and silly. Without them realizing it, it also makes them think of me as one of their buddies, in short, I fit in because they help me. Then, I basically keep my mouth shut. I don’t lead the raids unless they ask, and I don’t run the groups. I let them and I just provide support. Just like what I am trying to build into them in real life. Because of this and because they are comfortable asking for my help or engaging with me in game, they are also more comfortable coming to me in real life, out of game when they have a problem or a question, and so are their friends. It is comforting as a parent to know my children’s friends, to talk to them and have them respond positively, to feel comfortable and safe asking for help. By being cool, showing confidence in them, giving them the chance to prove themselves, and by being reliable support for them as they do, they know they can alway count on me. If my kids never learn more than that and some common manners, my work here is done.
Categories: Kids and Tech