I read an article today about a Mississippi boy who went missing after possibly chatting with someone online. This wasn’t anywhere near my house, but still it hits very close to home as my children play games and talk to their friends using apps like this boy was using to chat with others. (Note that he has now been found).
Kids are no longer just sitting in their room playing video games alone. Many online gamers use built in online voice chat functions in popular games like Fortnite, PUBG, etc or talk with each other using an app like Discord to chat while they play. If they aren’t using voice chat they can still communicate with each other using type chat or in game features like books on Minecraft.
These are real people with real lives and sometimes really bad intentions. Conversations with total strangers are just a click or keystroke away.
This. is. scary.
The main reason we created the SKrafty Gaming Community was for my kiddos to have a safer place to play online that is moderated, filtered, and with other like-minded players. This post is not about just doing away with gaming or even Discord. Although I don’t suggest Discord for any kiddo who doesn’t have the maturity to handle it as it is a wide open portal to strangers and inappropriate built-in content online.
One of the things the dad says in the news story is this, “I didn’t know”. He didn’t know that his son was chatting with strangers on an app. I am not writing this to blame or place fault on the dad, but as a warning to others. PLEASE know how your kids are talking to their friends and WHO they are talking to! Privacy is just not something you can afford to give them these days. This story about the boy in Mississippi is not an isolated incident. I hear stories frequently about parents who catch their kids chatting inappropriately with strangers online using Discord. I don’t blame Discord for this or any other group chat application or game. Many of these aren’t evil by themselves, but it’s what others do with them that can cause the problem. The problem is NOT necessarily Discord, but that he didn’t know.
What can parents do?
1) Keep a finger on the pulse of your child’s online activities. Know what games they are playing, who they are in talks with, what apps they are using. Ask them. Look at what they are doing online! I know some may disagree with this due to “their right to privacy”, but keeping them safe is so much more important in my opinion.
2) Keep any online gaming activities in a public part of the house. This is not foolproof as we parents do often get distracted. BUT..it’s a great way to keep them included in family activities and monitor what they are doing.
3) Make them come up for air. Gaming is fun and can be beneficial, but it’s good to allow them to explore other interests, complete responsibilities, and get some exercise. Moderation is key in everything.
4) Have a filter such as Covenant Eyes on your kid’s computer. It is VERY important to note that this app won’t really help with filtering their apps like Discord or game chat. However, it is a good start to get an idea of what kinds of things your child is doing online, and will also help to filter out inappropriate web based content. The BEST filter for that kind of thing is PWOS or “Parent Watching Over Shoulder”.
5) Tune in to your kids. Listen to them. Many of these kids are lured off with the idea that their online friends “get them” or “know what they are going through” or “value them more than their family does” or any other online need they have that needs to be filled. True online friends ARE important and valued and loved. I know because our family has many online friends who I would consider some of our very best friends. However, this is not a replacement for real life, in your face, relationships with your family.
6) Disciple them. One day they won’t be under a parent’s watchful eye & protection, and sadly that time will come faster than we’d like. Take time now while they are still under your roof to have important discussions about online relationships, safe surfing, etc. Teach them about intentional web use vs. random browsing. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”. Guide them to guard their hearts now to avoid heartbreak later.