My child is gaming with strangers – what should I do?

03 Jun 2024 Becca Cawthorne

This is part of a series of blogs written by the Education Team at Childnet, one of the partners in the UK Safer Internet Centre.

The Education Team deliver education and information sessions directly with children and young people aged 3-18 years old, as well as parents, carers, teachers and professionals.

In this series we will answer some of the questions we get most frequently asked by  parents and carers about helping their children navigate the internet.

In this blog, Childnet Education Officer Georgia offers advice about gaming and chat within games.

What games allow chat?

Online chats are currently a big part of the gaming world. Through our work in schools, we know many young people chat to others while they are playing games. Online chats in games can take various forms, including:

  • Written chats – these could be direct messages to specific people, group chats with friends or a public chat.
  • Voice chat –talking aloud with other people, often using a headset to do so.
  • Video chat – talking with other people through a video, where a person and their surroundings can be seen.

Chat can often be a feature built into the game, however some gamers use separate apps to chat whilst gaming, including some apps which can be integrated directly into the gaming experience.

Is chatting in games dangerous?

Chatting in online games can be a positive experience for young people and is a quick and easy way for them to communicate with gamers from all over the world. Online game chats give young people the opportunity to work in teams and enjoy the game together, creating a positive social environment. Online chats can also be an important part of online gaming, as it is a way to communicate with teammates and successfully complete tasks and levels.

However, there are some risks to be aware of when young people are chatting in games. They may witness bad language or online hate, if this is not blocked or filtered by the game. In a voice chat, this behaviour can be harder to monitor, especially if it’s through a headset as there is no written record of what has been said.

Another risk could be somebody asking to move the chat onto another messaging app or social media platform. These chats, separate from the game, could be encrypted and harder to moderate. It can sometimes be the case that a child may ‘befriend’ somebody online and begin to trust them. This may lead them to share personal information, photos and videos, or agree to meet up with them.

What advice can I share with my child?

It is important to remember that all children are different, and as their parent or carer you are best placed to know what your children are ready for in the online world. However, conversation is key when you’re trying to understand the purpose of their online chats. Give your child the opportunity to discuss their experiences on online games, positive or negative.

For younger children

  • Choose a game with a closed chat, where children can only chat with people they know. You may be able to change the privacy settings in games to limit the people they can talk to.
  • Supervise your child’s use of online chats and set appropriate boundaries. The Childnet Family Agreement is a great way to discuss and record these expectations.
  • Remind your child that online chats should stay on topic and relevant if they are talking to somebody they do not know offline, for example they should only be talking about the game.
  • Ensure your child is aware that if they are asked for personal information, photos, videos or livestreams or to meet up with somebody, they need to tell an adult immediately and report it.

For older children and teens

  • Ensure your child is aware of blocking and reporting tools. Blocking somebody prevents messages coming through from them, whereas reporting alerts the platform safety team of an incident.
  • Remind your child that they are in control when chatting online. If they ever feel uncomfortable or unsure, they can cut the communication and leave the chat. They might want to start a new gaming chat with their friends instead.
  • Set expectations for online chats to make sure chat stays respectful and personal information is not shared with people they do not know.
  • Make sure your child is aware of the warning signs that the online chat may be putting them at risk. For example, asking for personal information, asking for photos videos and livestreams, asking to move the chat elsewhere and arranging to meet up. If your child is asked for any of these things, they need to tell and adult and make a report to CEOP.

Where can I go for more help and advice?

CEOP Safety Centre – To report any concerns of an individual contacting a child and asking for personal information, to meet up or for photos, videos or livestreams.

Family Video Game Database – Detailed advice about different games and their features. This website also suggests alternative options for any games you do not want your child to play.

Common Sense Media – Breaks down the content of games (as well as books, films, apps, websites) into categories to gain a clear picture of what it is like. This is a subscription service, but it does allow 3 free reviews per month.

Internet Matters – Provides clear instructions on how to set up parental controls on games, apps, devices and even Wi-Fi routers. Childnet – Help and advice pages for children and for parents and carers. There are also resources such as books and games to help children lear

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