Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Play it Safe: Online Gaming Safety Tips

Online gaming is an increasingly popular activity for kids.  It's a way for them to play with friends without having to be face-to-face.  It can serve as entertainment, education and character development for them.  However, it seems lately that these gaming systems that appear to be private and confined to the walls of the home are actually opening the doors to scammers, cyber-bullies and sexual predators.
Unless you're using a webcam, there is no way to know exactly who you are talking to over the internet. When kids are using headsets to talk to people they meet on Xbox LIVE or PlayStation 3, the people they are talking to could be living down the street or across the globe. What's more risky is that your children may not personally know who they're talking to; in other words, just as strangers exist in the "real world," strangers also exist online. Though your children's gaming system was provided for innocent entertainment, these online strangers could potentially be bullying, scamming, or even sexually harassing your children.
We searched "sexual predators on Xbox LIVE" on Google and 307,000 results popped up! These results included stories or articles related to the newest tool, Xbox LIVE, used to lure in children commonly between the ages of 10 and 14 for sexual favors, to send them explicit photos of themselves, or send invites to meet up with them. According to, 97% of online teens, ages 12-17, play computer, online, portable or console games. Of these teens, 27% play games with people they met online.
Today's advancements in technology have fostered a gaming craze among children and teens. If your child participates in online games, take a minutes to catch up with how you can maintain their safety and enjoyment while playing.
Today's advancements in technology have fostered a gaming craze among children and teens. If your child participates in online games, take a minute to catch up with how you can maintain their safety and enjoyment while playing.
1. Know the risks.
Understand the potential dangers your children face as they play games online.
a. People might befriend your children by trying to earn their trust. Scammers and predators may pretend to be kids themselves, share tips on how to win, or give gifts like points or virtual goods.
b. Some gamers play to bully, taunt, and harass others with bad language, cheating, or inappropriate attacks.
c. Good downloads may carry bad content; when kids download games from non-reputable sites through links they may also download offensive content, spam, or malicious software.
2. Take advantage of technology.
Most popular games come equipped with parental controls.
a. Websites generally devote a section to parents and provide assistance with setting up controls.
b. Almost every game has a chat filter option available. Go to the options or settings of the game and look for these filters; more than likely a “profanity filter” will be available, so make sure it is enabled.
c. Many computer operating systems, including Microsoft, have family safety settings available to help protect kids. These tools help you specify the types of games your kids can play, monitor who children talk to and how, set time limits, and control what your kids see and share while gaming. Learn how to enable these controls and explain to your children what they are for – for example, they are not set up to spy on them, but to keep them safe.
d. Report any improper or suspicious content or behavior; ask your children to ignore or block any players that have shown hostility, pressured your child for information, or have sent or requested explicit or inappropriate materials. Immediately report any serious threats or harassment to the local police.
e. If the game your child has chosen doesn’t have monitors built in, check out TimesUpKidz or KidsWatch, programs that can help you watch how long your child plays.
3. Explore the games alongside your children.
Even if they act annoyed, it's crucial to become involved.
a. Sit with your kids while they play or join in the game. You may find it’s a fun activity you can do together while you’re keeping them out of harm’s way. You’ll be able to monitor their interactions with others and guide a potentially harmful situation.
b. Check the ratings of games your children want to play. Most games sold at stores are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). These ratings serve as guidelines while discussing with your kids whether the games they want are appropriate or not.
c. Stick to well-known games and games from reputable websites to reduce the risk of scammers. Some popular sites include MSN Games, Xbox LIVE, and Yahoo! Games.
d. Find out the game’s terms of play. Find out how the game service monitors players and how they respond to reports of abuse. Read the site’s privacy policy to learn how it will use and protect your children’s information; if there isn’t one, play somewhere else.
4. Talk to your children.
Above all, keep the lines of communication between you and your children open.
a. Celebrate their accomplishments, talk about what they did, and listen for clues about dangerous situations they may have encountered while playing.
By teaching your children about the potential dangers surrounding online gaming, they will feel confident in dealing appropriately with dangerous or risky situations. At the Monique Burr Foundation, we are working hard everyday to keep children safe through providing Speak Up Be Safe™, a culturally and developmentally appropriate bullying and child abuse prevention curriculum to 1st through 5th grade students in Florida. The program is helping students, parents, caregivers, and school personnel get the information they need to understand all types of abuse and how to prevent them. The program also helps children recognize and report any unsafe situations or people they may encounter while gaming online.
Visit our website to become educated about this program and to help share our message. Thank you for helping us to protect Florida’s children today!

Check out these amazing gaming statistics provided by The Entertainment Software Association.

By Guest Blogger Jackie Wiggens | UF Senior

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It Takes a Village!

Monroe County, Florida could be considered a model community for using our program, Speak Up Be Safe™ (SUBS) to protect children, doing it in a collaborative and comprehensive way – starting a true community initiative to protect children from bullying and abuse.  In March, after a meeting was arranged for the Monique Burr Foundation for Children (MBF) by the Chief Assistant State Attorney for Monroe County, Manuel Madruga, the Superintendent of Monroe County Schools, Jesus Jara, approved Speak Up Be Safe™ to be implemented in all Monroe County elementary schools.

One month later MBF was back in the Keys, and on April 30th we trained not only all elementary school counselors, but for the first time in SUBS history, all middle and high school counselors as well. Even more impressive, Manuel Madruga, Jesus Jara, and State Attorney Dennis Ward attended the Facilitator training as well.  Before the end of the school year, Monroe County had provided SUBS to 2,227 students, a great accomplishment in a short time.

A great first step in preventing bullying and abuse; yet Monroe County seemed to want more.  Several recent bullying incidents brought Dennis Ward and Jesus Jara to MBF yet again in a quest for additional bullying resources.  So we’ve added another partner to the Monroe Community Initiative.  This time Jenny Craig, of Live Your Power attended a Bullying Prevention Community Presentation with Lynn Layton, MBF Executive Director and Stacy Pendarvis, MBF Trainer.  Participants attended a two-hour awareness and education seminar at Metropolitan Community Church in Key West on June 25th where they learned about bullying, cyberbullying and learned practical, effective solutions.

Monroe County Schools has now asked MBF for a bullying awareness and education training at the beginning of the school year for all teachers/staff and is considering implementing the Live Your Power bullying prevention curriculum for middle and high schools.  This is truly a community working together to protect their kids and prevent bullying and abuse.  It takes a village and Monroe County knows and is living it!

Written by Guest Blogger Stacy Pendarvis, MSW, MA of Pendarvis Consulting & Training and former Program Manager for MBF with over 16 years in the child safety and child abuse prevention field.