When a child starts playing video games online, then sooner or later she or he will start chatting with other players.
In-game chats are rarely just about the game itself, and parents may want to think twice if their younger children are ready to handle these chats alone, if at all.
Chatting with other gamers, while meant to enrich gameplay, brings many risks with it, and digital media experts say younger children are better off staying offline with their games until they're old enough to deal with the kind of content known to surface in chats.
Alternatively, they may prefer to play games with friends or, if possible, only join moderated chats.
Parents should also watch their children while playing online games – not in a surveillance capacity, but by playing with them. In other words, get the child to show you how to play so you can join them from time to time.
That way you can show an interest in what they're enjoying, and create shared experiences and open yourselves up for a trusting future dialogue about what happens in online games and in the chats.
It's also a good idea to alert your children to any possible dangers - for example, by openly addressing the fact that they may come across propaganda, extremist ideas, fake news and hate speech in the chat.
This is because some gamers use the chats to share their ideological world view and to spread hate, says digital media coach Iren Schulz.
In addition to hateful texts and images in chats, gamers can also glorify violence against minorities through gameplay, and elements in existing games popular with many children can be changed to convey hateful meanings, Schlutz explains.
Gamers can change their profile name, their character's equipment and sometimes the entire game world, meaning extremist players can fill the game itself with hateful symbols and messages that can be seen outside of the chat.
It won't always be clear to children what is happening here, as they often lack a critical assessment of the gaming world.
Parents can prepare them for such experiences and teach them to question the content they experience there. Above all, parents should make it clear to their children: You can talk to me if something seems strange to you.
It's best if parents offer age-appropriate content and check that any relevant security and data protection settings are activated. In addition, it's worth it if you can follow the gameplay from time to time. – dpa