This section provides a focus on topical issues related to Online Safeguarding and aims to give a useful overview for a variety of audiences. Additional items will be added at regular intervals so be sure to check back for updated information.
A Focus On...Digging into Minecraft
Minecraft is a 'virtual world' game that is hugely popular amongst children of all ages and abilities. Often described to the unfamiliar as 'virtual-lego', it provides a 'sandbox' platform for creative expression through in-built characters including animals and monsters and the building of virtual environments.
Players can play individually or in multiplayer environments, construct items such as buildings, create towns and dig (mine) for materials with different properties which can be used to ‘craft’ items such as tools - if you have not previously seen Minecraft, take a look at the Minecraft trailer video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmB9b5njVbA) to get an idea of what is involved.
To suggest Minecraft is a popular game is something of an understatement – almost any child will be familiar with the game which first appeared around 6 years ago and according to reports, is the 2nd best-selling video game of all time*. Minecraft was bought from its original creators (Mojang) by Microsoft in 2014 and has a number of versions with a variety of different modes such as Creative, Adventure and Survival modes, growing in popularity ever since (an Education version of Minecraft was released in 2016).
Minecraft is age-rated by PEGI as 7+ and unlike many other popular video games, part of its enduring popularity over the last 6 years is no doubt helped by its ability to engage with children’s own creative talents and that it has an open-ended basis – that is, the game does not have pre-determined environment or a set conclusion. Minecraft worlds can be very simple or immensely complex and players can play for as short or as long a time as they choose which gives us an insight into two of the most commonly reported issues. The immersive nature of Minecraft can lead to enormous amounts of time spent online which, if left unchecked, can lead to frustration when asked to switch off and tiredness the following day. Relatedly, in shared environments, players can destroy as well as create. When a child has spent a very considerable amount of time and effort over a number of hours, days or weeks building their world only to find that someone has subsequently destroyed it (known as ‘Griefing’) can feel devastating and has been linked to cases of online bullying. In addition, the nature of being able to enter into a multiplayer environment brings potential issues of communicating online with people they don’t know.
However, playing on Minecraft does not have to be with others and using the single player Creative mode is typically the safest option, allowing players to become familiar with the game without monsters or other players involved. A point often raised by children (and their parents/carers) in relation to Minecraft is emulation – there are various ‘YouTubers’ or ‘Vloggers’ who record their own exploits and post them online for others to see. These online celebrities can attract enormous numbers of followers and children will often emulate what they do and try to create similar constructions, typically at the same time as playing the game themselves.
So, what can we do as Parents and Carers? As highlighted above, agreeing some ground rules, particularly around time limits and what is / isn’t appropriate behaviour, is a good start. Having ‘the online safety conversation’ may seem awkward at times but Minecraft is often a useful place to begin and can allow us to begin to talk to our children about some of the possible online risks such as online strangers, bullying and who they need to tell if something worries them. These topics can often be easier to introduce when combined with asking our children to teach us about their Minecraft world such as asking who the different characters are (e.g. “is that another player?”, “do you know them in real life?”).
The NSPCC and O2 have teamed up to produce some useful information around playing Minecraft safely which can be found in the dedicated Parents & Carers section of the website. The section also contains a variety of other useful news and information about online issues including links to the highly recommended NSPCC/O2 NetAware resource where you can find out more information about the different Social Networks and popular apps that children use.
You can also download the above information as a standalone resource in the Parents & Carers section of the website.
Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board 2017
* and just in case you were wondering, the No.1 best-selling video game is another building block game…Tetris
A Focus On...Safer Online Behaviours over Summer
As the summer holidays begin, many children and young people will often spend an increased amount of time online whether it is using the latest apps, playing their favourite games, watching their favourite vloggers or simply keeping in touch with friends through social media. For parents and carers, it offers us a good opportunity to have a positive discussion about their favourite sites, apps or games and agree some expectations about how much time they are allowed and what they should do if something concerns them. The LSCB’s ‘Useful Tips for Parents and Carers’ can be found at the top of the Parents and Carers section of the Online Safety website.
Keeping in touch: During the summer break, many young people may use social media to keep in touch with their friends or stay updated on what’s happening. It is a good opportunity to find out which apps are their favourites and for younger children, remind them they must be at least 13 to use most popular social networking sites. Encourage them to make sure they have privacy settings in place, why this is important and only to share appropriate content with those they know and trust in real life.
Tip: If you aren’t sure what the different apps are or what they do, check out the excellent NetAware site from the NSPCC & O2 (www.net-aware.org.uk).
Time Online: Without the normal structure that typically comes with being at school, children may find it challenging to manage their time online appropriately. Agreeing some time limits and setting out expectations beforehand can help to avoid difficult discussions later – if they have only just started to play a team game online only to find their allocated time is up can understandably lead to frustrations.
Tip: Deciding whether to give children extended time online whilst off school can be challenging but consider a compromise – akin to ‘you must do your homework before you go online’, maybe they can have some extra time if they agree to go through and update their privacy settings first?
Online Friendships: The holidays are also a good opportunity to talk to our children about their online friendships and encourage positive behaviour by discussing what makes a good online friend. It is very important that they also understand that just because they may have been chatting to a friendly person on a site or through a game for some time, if they only know them online, then they are still a stranger and they must not give out any personal details. If you or your child are worried about an adult pressuring them online, you should contact the Police immediately.
Tip: Remember many console games are online multiplayer environments but children may not make the connection and think ‘stay safe online’ messages only apply to websites or social media. Make sure they understand how online safety rules apply to the gaming world too.
Sharing Photos: Many children and young people will understandably want to share photos and videos of their holiday activities and this gives us a good opportunity to discuss what types of photos and videos are okay to share and who they can be shared with. Make sure they understand that photos and selfies can give away personal information without them realising it. Remember, only sharing with our real friends is really important – stop and think carefully about who might see your Social Media post about the fantastic time you are having on holiday (this goes for adults too !) – friends, relatives, work colleagues, burglars…if you have posted it for all to see on Facebook, they know your house might just be empty !
Tip #1: If going abroad, check if your mobile network has additional roaming charges so you can avoid unexpected bills.
Tip #2: Consider just sharing your holiday posts with friends on direct messaging services (e.g. WhatsApp) and save those Facebook updates until you get back home.
Tip #3: Many apps include location sharing functions (e.g. Snap Maps). Check the settings in apps and know what information you and your children may already be sharing.
You can download the above summer advice as a standalone resource in the Parents & Carers section of the website.
Released in the UK at the end of July 2016 on both iOS and Android devices, Pokémon GO has become an enormously popular mobile game for our Children and Young People.
For those not familiar, Pokémon GO (also referred to as 'PoGo') is an Augmented Reality (AR), location-based mobile game which involves collecting animated characters (Pokémon) from various locations which can then be used to train or have virtual battles against other Pokémon. Players can also collect items such as eggs from PokéStops which then hatch into Pokémon once the player has walked a certain number of kilometres (Note: Pokémon GO relies heavily on a device’s GPS (Global Positioning System) which can quickly drain the battery). The game uses AR on devices so characters appear to exist in real-world locations (see example screenshot right).
Understandably, its continued popularity amongst young people (and not-as-young-people too) generates a number of common questions: Are there potential risks we need to consider? What is the age requirement? Are there any positive aspects to the game? Where can I find out more? As with the wider Online Safety world, the issues are typically less with the technology itself and more about the behaviours that surround it. With this in mind, it becomes apparent that moving around in public, holding out our expensive devices in front of us, looking for a Dratini or a Pikachu can present a set of concerns we might not normally associate with typical Online Safety risks. However, there are positives for us in this respect - as adults, we will more than likely likely feel far more confident discussing being aware of our surroundings, opportunities for thieves and paying attention to traffic dangers than we would perhaps when trying to understand the in-and-outs of the latest Social Media app’s updated privacy settings.
The original 1990s tagline "Gotta-catch-‘em-all" potentially gives us a clue to another concern we need to consider – one of the aims of the game is to collect all the Pokémon characters (150+) and whilst it can be great fun, it can understandably become quite addictive. As indicated above, Pokémon GO is popular across all ages (Note: Users under the age of 13 must sign up with their parent’s consent) and is free-to-play (Note: Pokémon GO has a variety of in-app purchases) so as with other online safety risks, setting some ground rules and expectations such as time limits is therefore highly advisable and is much easier to agree beforehand if possible. Perhaps one of the much-overlooked positive aspects around Pokémon GO is the potential for collective family outdoor activity – it can often be challenging getting our children to ‘unplug’ and ‘go outdoors’ but Pokémon GO can offer us the opportunity to meet them halfway and with a suitable device, is an activity the family can participate in together.
Occasionally, concerns are raised over the location of PokéStops and Gyms including trespassing on private land or potentially problematic locations. Niantic (the makers of Pokémon GO) provide a custom reporting facility where concerns can be raised to report game problems or request their removal. Where this is an issue, a link is provided below to the support site.