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...What is PEGI?
Online gaming can often be overlooked when it comes to Online Safety and yet, it is one of the most popular discussion topics when talking to children and young people about the online world. Don’t know your Minecraft’s from your Fortnite’s or whether a game is suitable for your child? The following information provides an overview of the PEGI system and some useful tips when it comes to online games.
Understanding that risks such as grooming, cyberbullying and inappropriate content all apply to the online gaming environment is extremely important. Historical messages such as stranger danger, knowing who you are talking to or being able to block someone are all important messages, but what about the content itself?
Within the UK, we use a system called PEGI (Pan European Game Information) as a game content rating system. In a similar structure to that used for movies, PEGI uses 5 distinct age categories ranging from 3 through to 18.
In addition, PEGI also uses ‘content descriptors’ which give information about what content the game contains across 7 categories such as whether the game contains violence, bad language, fear, sex, gambling, drugs and discrimination.
Despite what some children may have us believe (!), the age ratings given to individual games do not relate to skill levels required or the difficulty of the game but, to its suitability for a given age. Some example age ratings for popular games include those shown in the illustration below:
Whilst these are examples of a number of popular titles, the PEGI website includes a useful feature that allows users to enter the name of a game to find out further information including its PEGI rating, content descriptors and what the game involves – see: https://pegi.info
Importantly, the majority of games often involve online interaction with other players and it is therefore extremely important that children understand that online rules about appropriate behaviour and keeping personal information private apply to games too.
A common concern raised when delivering Parental Awareness sessions is the amount of time children and young people spend playing games. Games are designed to be engaging and immersive so setting ground rules for time limits and your expectations beforehand is very useful. Additionally, popular gaming consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation have very useful features within their settings that can help in this regard, along with options to set age ratings, purchasing and other permissions. Alternatively, others such as the Nintendo Switch have downloadable apps to support parents with safety settings (http://bit.ly/switch-pegi).
Whilst there are risks associated with the online world, young people often point out that as adults, we must be careful not to forget the positives.
Online games can help with developing important skills such as collaboration, perseverance, creativity, teamwork and building resilience.
However, the single most important thing parents and carers can do to help their children stay safe online is to have a conversation. Equally, getting involved helps our understanding so trying out some of the games our children play can build confidence to address potential issues (and can be fun too!).
Graham Lowe, LSCB Online Safeguarding Advisor
Lancashire Safeguarding Boards 2018
Note: You can download the above PEGI advice as a standalone resource in the Parents & Carers section of the website.
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.
A Focus On...Staying Safe Online over the Festive Season
As the festive season gets underway, many children and young people may receive gifts they can use to go online so it is a good opportunity to give some thought to how we can support them to stay safe whilst having fun. Gifts such as Tablets, Gaming Consoles or Smartphones can all be used to go online so it is important to think ahead about what safety features are available and set them up in advance.
Our colleagues at the UK Safer Internet Centre have some very useful checklists with things to consider when choosing different devices:
Setting up Parental Controls on the home internet connection may seem a little daunting but the highly-regarded Internet Matters website has some really useful guidance from major broadband providers about setting up online filters.
Agreeing some Behaviours and Expectations BEFORE children receive devices can help to prevent some difficult conversations later. Additionally, our colleagues at Childnet have a handy Family Agreement which can be useful, especially for younger children – see: www.childnet.com/blog/family-agreement
Tip: Good agreements work both ways so if family-time involves no tech, this applies to adults too!
Not sure about Snaps, Streaks or Insta? The variety of Apps and Social Media tools can seem bewildering at first but the very-highly recommended NetAware resource from O2 and the NSPCC is an excellent way to find out more about the different apps and games your child may use – see: www.net-aware.org.uk
Tip: NetAware also has an app for your smartphone to stay in touch with the latest updates.
Games can be over-looked but remember most modern consoles connect online and often have in-built web browsers. Ensuring appropriate gaming content is also important so make sure to check what PEGI-rating different games have, including the descriptions such as Sex, Violence or Bad Language – see: www.pegi.info
Tip: Some games also offer in-game purchases for additional content – if so, use vouchers rather than credit cards to help save you from unexpected bills later.
Don’t forget the Positives! Being aware of the potential risks the online world poses is very important but don’t forget it also offers us immense opportunities and benefits. If you still aren’t too sure, get involved and ask your child to teach you about their online world and what they do (and don’t) like.
You can also download the above information as a standalone resource in the Parents & Carers section of the website.
Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board 2017
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...Pokémon GO
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.