Gaming is a major part of children and young people’s lives today and those with experience of living in care are no exception. They provide children and young people with entertainment, relationship building, learning, and development opportunities. However, there are also risks to their safety, mental and physical health to consider.
Gaming is a major part of children and young people’s lives today and those with experience of living in care are no exception. They provide children and young people with entertainment, relationship building, learning and development opportunities. However, there are also risks to their safety, mental and physical health to consider.
Interacting with others online through multi-player games has become an integral part of many children and young people’s lives including those with experience of living in care. Any game that has a sharing function or chats by voice or text function can expose children and young people to online harms such as cyberbullying, abuse and exploitation.
For many children and young people, online gaming is a space to play and socialise. It can be used to maintain friendships and make new ones. It can be particularly important for children and young people who can find themselves more socially isolated from their peers due to their care experiences. Parents and carers need to be aware that groomers and abusers can use voice or text function in games to isolate gamers and break up their trusted relationships.
Online gaming let children and young people connect, create and share with others which brings a range of benefits that can support their wellbeing, including:
The behaviours/risks parents and carers should watch out for when it comes to gaming online.
Any child or young person from any background can be at risk of online harm, but some are more susceptible to it than others. Children and young people with care-experience may be more at risk or exhibit the following behaviours:
If a child or young person was placed in care due to maltreatment and neglect they may be emotionally vulnerable and therefore more at risk of being groomed online or child sexual abuse.
The relative anonymity of gaming online can encourage children and young people to take risks and say or do things they may not do in the real world. Children and young people with care-experience may have different social experiences and risk-taking perspectives to their peers, making this an important consideration for this group when online gaming
Physical and mental health
It is important to be aware that:
Children and young people in your care may experience all forms of risk – content, contact, and conduct when gaming. Where their previous internet history and experiences have been unmanaged or unregulated, they may have already been exposed to these risks and see the activity as acceptable or as “banter”.
The areas of risk explained:
Content – Being exposed to inappropriate or harmful content which may include bullying and abuse, or harmful topics (e.g. pornography, self-harm, etc)
Contact – Meeting strangers and being involved in high-risk relationships online
Conduct – Where a child behaves in a way that contributes to risky content or contact or is the recipient of harmful conduct online
Harder to recognise ‘real friends’
Children and young people in care may look for players in online games to provide stable contact and interaction (good or bad) in place of physical interaction. They may have learned not to trust caregiving adults but can be won over by online contacts that do what they say they will do, give rewards, and say positive things.
Gaming includes watching live streams
Videos and live streams of gamer activity on sites like YouTube and Twitch show children and young people how to play games. They enjoy watching these players, who may be professionals, gaming at a higher level. If a child or young person is restricted from playing a game they will turn to these videos and live streams instead, partially negating the effect of not being allowed to play. Also as live streams may be unmoderated, they may be exposed to inappropriate language or content that could impact their wellbeing.
Sharing too much information
Children can also be tempted to ‘overshare’ information online, inadvertently or not, that can identify them, their status, or their carers. This may be through the content of their posts or images (school uniforms, homes, favourite scenes), the regular posting of their location, or through a choice of identifiers such as usernames and gamer tags.
Once in the game, it is common to use a screen name or gamer tag. For example, a username such as janedoe0904 may suggest their DOB as September 2004 making online identification simpler. It can be beneficial to disguise the username, though this may be telling a young person to be untruthful, so accompany this with an age-appropriate discussion around security, privacy, and data protection.
Foster parents and carers should look out for behaviour changes to determine if a child or young person is experiencing online harm (cyber scams, cyberbullying, sexting, revenge porn, online sexual abuse, online grooming, etc). Here are some things to think about:
Comply with Code of Practice
Conversations to have
Developing an open honest non-judgemental relationship where children and young people with care-experience feel safe in discussing their issues is a cornerstone of harm prevention.
Check-in with them
Have ongoing conversations about privacy
Ask them about their digital life
Discuss screen time management
See related advice and practical tips to support children online: