Helping children safely navigate the choppy waters of online finances is crucial. From pocket money lost on fake Fifa coin sites (which happened to my son years ago) to accidentally racking up the charges in smartphone games, there are many ways children (and by implication, parents!) can come financially unstuck.
One current hot potato is in-game spending – that is, actively spending money on purchases within a game that you already own. This includes Loot Boxes, card packs, prize wheels and more. It can be hugely tempting for children because it lets you advance in a game or unlock features quickly, but obviously, without any controls, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
Recent research in the annual GameTrack Survey shows that just over a third of children who game are allowed to spend money on in-game purchases. The PEGI rating on games themselves now has to disclose whether in-game purchases are part of the game, so as a parent you can see clearly whether this may be an issue when you are considering what games to let your child play.
If you are happy to link a bank card to your child’s game you need to have an agreement in place with them to make sure that they are clear what their limits are. Parental controls on consoles can also limit spending, or you can use a pre-paid card that will only allow a player to spend what is on the card rather than going into debt. Make sure the child knows this is real money, not virtual!
Secondly, talk to your child about any pressures they feel about ‘keeping up with friends’ by spending money in-game. The 2019 report ‘Gaming the System’ by the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield revealed that in some cases children were spending hundreds of pounds without any real idea of what the rewards would be (this is very much the case with loot boxes, a common feature in popular games) but in the hope that they would be able to keep up with their friends in the game. This ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ can be tough, but it’s important to remember that there are still plenty of games that offer interactive, entertaining experiences without pestering players for in-game purchases. You can find a whole selection of them in the Family Video Games Database here.
There are so many other aspects to good money sense online for children, including spotting when things may be fake or scams – do remember to point out to your children that when it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Third-party websites offering deals on coins, points and other gear are often scams. Once a child has been scammed or tricked out of pocket money for ‘trades’ or ‘deals’ (and it does happen a lot; the children I talk to when I present in schools are always very keen to talk about their experiences with this) they are generally warier, having learnt the hard way. But how much better would it be to educate our children properly about both digital resilience and being a good digital citizen so that they don’t end up in these situations in the first place? This is something the Breck Foundation actively campaigns for – educating children to be able to stay smart and safe online, and for a future internet where all children can play and learn safely.