Online Gaming: Are Chat Rooms Safe?
Video games are becoming more and more interactive these days, and most kids use platforms that allow them to play along with people from all around the world. They can even record their own video game sessions and broadcast them live through platforms like Twitch. One of the most popular features of modern platforms is video game chat. If you have kids who play video games, it’s important to understand what video game chat rooms are and the dangers of online gaming with strangers.
Video Games Chat: Are Chat Rooms Safe?
If you use Instagram DMs or have sent messages on LinkedIn you know about chat features. They’re built into websites and apps to let users instantly message. Some sites are even incorporating video chat features for live communication.
Kids are often attracted to chat rooms because they’re still developing their social skills. They like the idea of interacting with people from across the country, around the world, or even next door. Some kids even place the people they game and chat with often into the “friend” category.
If you have a child who struggles with social anxiety, don’t feel surprised if you find out they’re using video game chats. Many kids have trouble interacting with peers in person but find they can open up much easier when the conversation unfolds through a chat box.
Popular Video Game Chat Features
There are different types of chat rooms that kids may encounter when playing video games, including:
- Open chat rooms – Everyone playing a game can read and participate in the chat. It’s an open chat field that everyone can see. These chat rooms allow incredibly active chat sessions that may include large groups of people.
- Private chat rooms – Messages are sent privately between two people. Some platforms may allow group features, but private chat is typically seen by only two people. Kids may feel more comfortable talking in a private chat room, but everything they say may still end up public. The other person in the conversation can screenshot and share anything that is said.
- Video chat rooms – Video chat allows users to see one another on video as they chat. Gamers of all ages are now recording their gaming sessions and including a small box with real-time video footage of them playing. Some gaming platforms also allow users to see one another on video as they chat and play games.
- Voice chat rooms – Users hear voices but don’t see the conversation in text or on video. These chat features are similar to phone calls because they allow users to simply talk while their hands are busy on the controller.
What Video Game Platforms Have Open Chat Rooms?
Are you wondering if your child has access to private or open chat rooms through their preferred gaming services? If they play some of the most popular video games and spend a lot of time online, there’s a good chance that they’re at least seeing the chat features.
The following video game platforms all offer chat features for users:
Your kids may also chat with other people while playing through streaming memberships offered by Playstation and other gaming consoles. The consoles allow users to pay one flat fee every month to access a variety of features through services like Playstation Live. Players can friend one another and see what games they’re playing, and they can chat around the clock.
Are There Age Restrictions for Video Game Chat Rooms?
There are no age restrictions for most video game chat rooms. If your child is old enough to gain access to the platform or finds a way to get in at a younger age, they more than likely can access all open chat rooms in addition to private chat features.
There are some video game apps and platforms that set high age limits for all users. For example, the Call of Duty app is restricted to users over the age of 16. That doesn’t mean that younger kids don’t find ways to access the app, but the higher age limit does help keep young children out of more adult conversations happening in video game open chat rooms.
Some video game platforms may limit private messaging and video chat to users with upgraded paid memberships. That is one way to stop some kids from accessing chat features because they’re less likely to have money to pay for a monthly subscription. Unfortunately, many gaming platforms used by minors open all their chat features to everyone with an account.
Why Open Chat Rooms are Potentially Dangerous for Kids
Are chat rooms safe? Open chat rooms come with some serious risks for children and even many teenagers and young adults. While platforms may have some policies in place to discourage bullying and inappropriate conversations, there are always ways for negative conversations to take place. You never know where a conversation is going to go when you open it to anyone wandering through an active gaming platform.
Let’s look at some of the things that could happen if your child accesses video game chat rooms:
- They’re likely to hear/see bullying behavior. That may include name calling, racial and homophobic slurs, and sexual innuendos. Bullying can cause significant emotional trauma not only for those involved but for kids witnessing the situation.
- They may be exposed to sexual content that they don’t understand. Many kids pick up a lot of information about sex through open chat rooms. Much of that information is incorrect. Sexual conversations may also make some kids feel uncomfortable, but they may not know how to get away from the chat without stopping their gaming activity.
- The “friends'' they interact with are potentially lying about their identities. It’s now very common for adults to target children online through chat. They’re good at choosing screen names and pictures that lead kids to believe that they’re also kids.
- They may give out personal information. Even revealing their location, age, full name, school name, and birth date to one person online could potentially put your child in harm’s way. When a kid is tricked into dropping personal information through an open chat room, everyone following the chat can access that information.
- Some kids get confused between reality and game life. Your child’s brain is still developing. They don’t have the reasoning and processing skills of an adult. They may get carried away by the conversations they're having with strangers and confuse real life with the game.
Are Private Chat Rooms Dangerous, Too?
Private chats are just as dangerous as group or open chat rooms. In fact, they may present even more serious risks because children don’t have the support of other people witnessing the conversation.
Someone can send your child a private message that they read without realizing what it contains. The damage is done in an instant if that message contains pornographic, violent, or other inappropriate words and images. Even if your child deletes the message and blocks the sender, they may feel traumatized by what they've seen.
When children willingly participate in private conversations because they’re fun or they feel they know the person on the other end, there’s even more room for danger. Experienced predators can manipulate and influence the thinking of many children when they have them alone in a virtual chat room. With time, they can convince some children to meet them, call them, or reveal their location or school name.
How to Protect Your Children from Open Chat Rooms in Video Game Platforms
The only way to ensure your children never encounter video game chat rooms is to stop them from playing on platforms that offer chat features. Another option is to limit their involvement. Not many gaming apps have parental control or chat locks, so you will have to forbid them from playing most apps and platforms if you want to avoid all chat exposure.
If you want your child to enjoy gaming but are concerned about video game chat features, the best thing you can do is follow these simple steps:
- Check out the games your kid plays. Figure out what type of chat and other interactive features they offer so that you know what your child is likely experiencing. You may also research the type of conversations that happen in chat rooms to understand what your child has potentially heard and seen already.
- Talk to your child. We’ll talk in detail about what you can say to your child about video gaming chat features below. For now, just know that direct conversation with your child is essential. If they know that you understand what they’re experiencing, they’re more likely to open up to you if they have a problem.
- Establish rules and boundaries. The last step is to make it clear what you expect from your child when gaming online. You may limit their gaming activity to hours that you’re home with them, allowing you to check up on them and see if they’re talking to other people. If they aren’t allowed to play some games or interact on some platforms with open chat rooms, then make sure you’re enforcing those restrictions.
Is There an Age When Open Chat Rooms are Okay?
If your kids are in middle or high school, you’re likely wondering if any of this applies to them. After all, they’re hearing and experiencing everything from bullying to bad language at school anyway, right?
Unfortunately, you can’t assume that older kids are prepared for the conversations they may overhear. Some high school kids are mature enough to process what they’re hearing and shut out conversations. They may even know enough to look information up online to see if it’s true or get the other side of the story.
But many kids don’t have the self-awareness and emotional maturity to handle what is tossed around lightly in open chat rooms online. The conversations they hear could confuse or emotionally harm them. They may even feel embarrassed enough not to ask for help or clarification.
So, is there an age at which you can stop worrying about what your child is experiencing in a chat room? That’s a call that every parent must make alone. If your child has already struggled with bullying or other difficult topics, then they may have more vulnerabilities than other children.
What to Say to Your Kids About Video Game Chat Rooms
Start by telling your kid that you’ve been learning about the video game platforms they use because you’re interested. Tell them about some of the fun, positive features you’ve read online about the games they like to play. This opens the door to communication by relating to your child.
Next, ask if they like video game chat features on any platform and what it's been like for them. Tell them about the potential dangers of online gaming with strangers in a calm voice. Even if your child tries to say those dangers aren’t real or valid, remain calm. Allow a rational, two-way conversation that covers all of the risks that you have learned about.
Finally, let your child know what you expect when it comes to open chat rooms online. If you’re going to allow your child to use chat features, make sure they understand the importance of not revealing personal information. You may want to sit in while your child is chatting during a game to see what they hear and see.
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