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Here’s How to Keep Kids Safe Online

Keeping kids safe is a full-time job. Rules and policies are created and put in place for caretakers, parents, educators, and even school bus drivers in order to set a younger generation up for success and safeguard them from harm. The same sentiment rings true for online safety, especially for a younger age group.

The same desire to keep kids protected also translates to online and digital safety, although slightly altered to meet the demands of a constantly changing landscape. ModSquad’s Head of Digital, Izzy Neis, recently joined a panel of industry experts during the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) annual conference, where she shared valuable insights about how to navigate the online world as a parent and how gaming is an integral part of modern child development.

Here are a few highlights from the session:

Gaming can have a positive impact on a child’s mental health. Playing metaverse video games (virtual worlds, MMOs, etc.) can actually have a positive impact on a child’s health. According to researchers, the sense of community, belonging, and confidence that comes along with digital play actually translates to the real-world psyche of a child. In fact, online gaming can have the same benefits as in-person play in some instances, with skills like collaboration, sharing, and turn-taking being prevalent in both situations. Over the past year, when children were physically isolated from one another, online gaming helped fill the gap left by not being able to interact face-to-face, which helped to alleviate loneliness.

In-app advertising is becoming the norm. Gone are the days when advertisers could rely on Saturday morning cartoons to hawk their latest and greatest. Kids spend more time online and playing games, so advertisers are meeting this generation where they spend the most time. In-game brand collaborations are quickly becoming the preferred method of advertising. Brands like Stella McCartney, Gucci, and others have developed partnerships with Roblox, for example. This in-game store branding and advertising is the modern-day equivalent of buying functional, playable billboards. Parents may be faced with spending real dollars on virtual clothes; just as much a status symbol in the virtual world as they are in real life. Some brands are even creating collections specifically for the virtual world, highlighting products and services that can’t be purchased in the physical world.

Game creators should rely on moderation (not just AI) to keep their community safe. Artificial intelligence tools are great to weed out obviously harmful content. Capable of quickly removing toxic images, words, and phrases, AI is a great first step toward combating harmful content displayed in gaming chats and forums. However, there’s no way it can stop every malicious image or phrase from being displayed. In order to keep kids safe online, gaming companies have to rely on human moderation, capable of identifying the second meanings behind emojis, acronyms, numbers, shorthand, and the misuse of appropriate words. (For example, the word high can be used appropriately — “I need to get to the high ground!” — but inappropriately as well — “I need to get high.”) These shortcuts can mean very different things to different age groups, so it’s critical that educated moderators know what to look out for. Additionally, COPPA laws prevent users under the age of 13 from playing most games, so having an additional layer of moderation is critical to identifying and protecting younger audiences.

Having fun with games goes beyond just PCs and mobile devices. Gaming doesn’t end when an Xbox or Switch is turned off. Kids who enjoy gaming have been flooding platforms like YouTube or Twitch. There’s a certain “fun” in observation, as well as a connection to community and an improvement in skills. Parents can put parameters in place that can safeguard their kids from inappropriate content on these platforms.

Keeping kids safe is shared ownership. From gaming companies to parents to lawmakers, online gaming and keeping children safe are everyone’s responsibility. The more we learn about how children interact with games, the better we can do to ensure that they’re safe, having fun, and building critical skills that can help them later in life. 

This shared responsibility may start with the gaming companies who are creating content (through the hiring of capable moderators, for example) to lawmakers who can regulate content and advertising. Ultimately, it’s up to parents, caretakers, and educators to decide what’s best for the children they see and interact with every day.

Learn more about how ModSquad helps ensure a safe, nurturing, and successful online environment for children across the globe.

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