Get started on your cybersecurity degree at American Military University.
By Susan Hoffman
Note: This article is part of a university series for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October. This week’s theme is Make Your Home a Haven for Online Safety.
Online games such as Roblox, Minecraft and Fornite provide a lot of innocent fun for children. These games also provide relaxation for players by allowing them to test their wits against other players and use their imagination for creative purposes.
However, these games have a darker side on occasion. It is all too easy for a predatory adult to pretend to be a child player in online gaming. The predator often uses behavior known as “grooming” to gain the child’s trust and to manipulate him or her into revealing personal information.
Later on, this trust might lead to the predator asking the child to use an app like WhatsApp, Skype or Snapchat. Eventually, the predator and the child could meet in person, giving the predator the opportunity to molest the child.
Warning Signs that Your Child May Be Involved with an Online Predator
There are multiple ways to determine if your child is involved with a predator. Watch to see if your child displays warning signs, such as:
- Turning off a screen or the game as you enter a room
- Becoming secretive about allowing you to talk to other players in the game
- Growing distant from family and friends
- Receiving packages or phone calls from people you don’t know
- Downloading pornographic images onto the computer he or she uses
What to Do to Protect Your Kids from Online Predators
According to security expert Graham Cluley, online gaming predators are master manipulators and will “zero in on those [victims] who are lonely, sexually confused, lack confidence, [or] are experiencing some form of pain, neglect, or loss in their life.”
Encouraging your children to talk freely with you, listening carefully to what they say and developing a healthy parent-child relationship is a good start toward protecting your children. Urge them to confide in you if another player seems to be getting too personal.
Other options include ensuring that the child only plays the game in a public room of your choice, such as a living room or kitchen, or installing parental control software. Be sure to reinforce the message of “stranger danger,” so that your children know not to reveal any personal information to other players.
Dr. Michael Pittaro, a criminal justice expert at AMU’s School of Security and Global Studies, says, “Stopping child sexual predators from infiltrating the online gaming community has proven unsuccessful; therefore, I recommend warning your children about the dangers of online predatory behaviors.
“For instance, tell your kids to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they have met online. Never give out identifying information such as their full name, home address, school name or telephone number. Most child sexual predators will come across as likeable, friendly, polite and even understanding or what victims may perceive as ‘caring.’ It is a façade, simply a method, albeit a successful one, used to gain the victim’s trust.”
Also, have your children practice what to say to discourage a predator, such as “I’m not interested” or “I don’t want to meet in person.” If that doesn’t work, many games provide the option of blocking another player or reporting activities that violate the rules of the game.
Teach your children to be cyber-smart when they play online games. It could save them from being injured or worse, killed.
If an online predator commits a crime such as sending obscene materials to your child, report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at 1-800-THE-LOST.