JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - For many kids the sound of a video game console powering on signals the start of much-deserved down time. However, it’s an alert to Candice Harris.
Harris believes her 11-year-old son, Xander, is good at balancing his game time while also staying safe online.
“I haven’t been very stringent,” said Harris.
As online gaming evolves, she said she knows she, as a parent, must evolve with it.
A recent study by the NPD Group shows how popular online gaming is:
- 82% of children in the U.S. between the ages of 2 to 17 years old play video games
- That number totals 55.7 million children
- More than half of them play games online
Region 8 News spoke to experts in both law enforcement and psychology to find out how children can enjoy online video games while staying safe and balanced. They broke down the do’s and don’ts from the moment a console enters the home to the time it needs to power down.
“For most families the main issue is to decide what works for their children and what works for their family as a whole,” said Dr. Dana Watson, clinical psychologist at Families Inc. in Jonesboro.
Dr. Watson said the best time to talk to children about the rules would be before they open the box.
"Just like if your family were to bring home a new pet or if your teenager was to get a new vehicle you would very likely and very hopefully have a conversation about this change," said Dr. Watson.
But, if your family already has a console or gaming PC in your home, it’s not too late to have that conversation.
Dr. Watson says setting ground rules is a necessary step parents should take. Those rules should include when the child can log on, when the game is turned off, and how you will react if your child breaks the rules.
“Just like we will teach them other real world skills on how to cope with that frustration or manage disappointment, you would want to use that as an opportunity to teach the child in that situation too,” said Dr. Watson.
She also recommended parents and children never forget about stranger danger - an old school concept in the high-tech world of gaming.
“It’s easier to keep a child from something than to take something away from them once they get it,” said Detective Ernest Ward of the Jonesboro Police Department.
Detective Ward is part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He said it’s important to have the talk as soon as possible.
“A lot of times what I see is after the fact, after something has happened," Ward said. "I have to come in and enlighten parents to what’s going on.”
He said parents need to know how their child’s game console works.
It’s necessary for them to understand privacy settings, parental controls, and how to report inappropriate behavior.
“Know your child’s device. Know it better than they do,” Ward said.
He said a parent’s top priority should be to pay attention to who their child communicates with online.
“When you have a video game that allows a child to communicate across the globe and put on a microphone talk to someone and they got their headphones on, you have no idea who they’re talking to," Ward said. “Best way to verify them is you meet them when you go to school.”
Bottom Line: Parents should not let a lack of knowledge about what their child plays stop them from making sure they’re safe.
One week after our first interview with Candice and Xander, Region 8 News went back to their home to see how mom and son handled these safety tips. You can watch that exclusive follow up here: