Many parents agree that games and apps are helpful in increasing their children’s love of puzzles, reading, writing, language, math, music, and imagination. But parents also know that there are inherent risks involved with letting their kids go online. This often leaves us at a crossroads — should we give our kids creative freedom, or try to protect them?

Monitor online activity

To monitor or not to monitor — that is the question

There are several reasons why parents might feel conflicted in monitoring their kids’ online activity. For one, gaming is a creative outlet that lets kids take control of their own worlds, and checking in or “spying” can stifle a child’s independence. Another reason is that distraction provides some undeniable benefits — parenting is a 24/7 adventure that offers little in the way of downtime; when children are absorbed in a new game or app, screen time can sometimes translate to “me time”. There’s also the drag of having to play the bad cop. If games make kids happy and excited, parents may not want to spoil the fun — especially if their friends are allowed to play.

Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, there are just as many reasons why you do need to monitor your kids' activities. Consider Roblox, an online game with millions of monthly players. Because it’s a user-generated platform, there are thousands of worlds to explore. Some are completely harmless and appropriate for any age, but there have also been several reports of violent or inappropriate content being found in the game. Games with a social aspect (like the ability to chat, leave comments, or interact live with other gamers) represent another pain point for parents as there are several risks involved with letting your kids go on social media, including cyberbullying and the sharing of personal information.

Finding a healthy medium

With all of this in mind, parents have every reason to monitor their kids’ gaming activity...within reason. When a game or app captures a child’s imagination, it can be difficult to wean them off it — and equally tempting to enforce overbearing rules and regulations. But there are a few things parents can do to make safe, proactive choices.

Rankings and ratings
Most games on the market have been ranked. Some are based on ESRB categories (EC for “early childhood” or E for “everyone”); the Apple App Store, on the other hand, ranks games according to age (e.g. “4+” or “9+”). Knowing these rankings and recommendations is a great way to keep your kids safe online.

Parental oversight
Games and apps specifically developed with younger children in mind, like Kinzoo, have several advantages: they prevent exposure to inappropriate content, stimulate development, and come equipped with robust privacy and parental controls. All of this means you can monitor your kids’ activity (passwords, friends lists, avatars, etc.) discreetly and periodically without impacting/removing their sense of autonomy and creativity. But it’s also important for parents to have an understanding of each individual platform, regardless of what age they’re intended for. Does an app frequently display pop-ups that tempt young children with more mature games? Is it easy to turn privacy settings on or off? Does playing a game require access to a device’s camera or microphone?

Constructive conversations
Similarly, there are conversations that parents can have to ensure kids practice safe online behavior. Kids who participate in real-world playdates are expected to follow rules and be respectful with their words and actions — the same standards should be set for gaming and social media. A quick check-in is a reasonable way to monitor what’s happening online. You might also want to ask your children to explain why they love a particular game or app, and what type of content they like or dislike. And, of course, you should encourage them to talk to you about any “red flags” they find online. Having these conversations and putting minor safeguards in place early, can help to eliminate your need to monitor more heavy-handedly down the line.

No parent wants to risk overstepping boundaries and looking like the bad guy, but today’s tech landscape doesn’t leave us much choice. That’s why, in our books, it’s okay for parents to monitor their kids’ gaming activity. So long as you’re taking care to educate kids along the way, while allowing for some independence (harsh gaming restrictions aren’t the answer), you’re keeping them safe — and letting them have a lot of fun, too.

Photo Credits: Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock, goodluz / Shutterstock, Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock, Bloomicon / Shutterstock

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