Are There Real-Life Consequences to Online Gaming Risks?
When Colby Bruno’s Steam account was hacked last year, he lost more than access to his favorite games. The hackers also stole over $1,000 worth of in-game items he’d purchased over the past three years [*].
Like most young people who get hacked playing online games, Colby has no idea what happened. But he’s far from being alone. In 2022 [*]:
Cybercriminals launched more than 7 million attacks against young gamers by exploiting popular games, such as Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, and Apex Legends.
American kids spend anywhere from 40 to 96+ minutes playing online games each day [*]. But virtual gaming environments can be full of real-world dangers.
Whether you’re worried about hacking, financial fraud, mental health issues, or the ever-present threat of online predators and cyberbullies, it pays to understand the risks your kids face when playing online games.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the biggest online gaming risks and provide cybersecurity tips that can help keep your kids safe.
The 8 Biggest Online Gaming Risks (and How To Prevent Them)
- Cyberbullying and online harassment
- Inappropriate or upsetting content
- Account takeovers and hacking
- Malware and viruses
- Identity theft and privacy issues
- Online predators
- Excessive in-game spending
- Devoting too much time to gaming
Online games — especially multiplayer games — can expose your family to a variety of threats. Here are the most serious dangers of online gaming, and what you can do as a parent to protect your kids.
1. Cyberbullying and online harassment
Cyberbullying refers to the harassment of someone over digital mediums, including text messages, social media, or online gaming platforms. Bullies set up fake profiles to intimidate and ruin the game for their victims. In multiplayer games, "griefers" trick people into giving away their gaming possessions.
Almost 41% of gamers are victims of bullying offline, while 25.9% are victims of cyberbullying [*]. The effects of cyberbullying can leave young children feeling powerless, isolated, and self-conscious.
In one extreme example, 15-year-old Mena Willis was pressured into self-harm challenges while playing Roblox. Feeling helpless against the cyberbullies, she eventually took her own life in the high school bathroom [*].
- Acting overly emotional after using their devices. Kids who are bullied during games may lash out after playing or become withdrawn and quiet.
- Trying to hide in-game conversations or texts. Victims often become guarded around their devices, hiding the screen when parents are nearby.
- Sleep problems. 63% of victims claim a lack of sleep is the most significant psychological impact of cyberbullying [*]. The stress can disrupt sleep at night and cause fatigue during the day.
What you can do as a parent:
- Receive notifications if your child is getting bullied. Aura’s parental controls and family safety app can monitor in-app game conversations (over text and voice) and warn you if your child is being bullied, harassed, or targeted.
- Reassure your child. Provide a safe space to discuss the issues by listening without judgment and offering unconditional support.
- Gather evidence of the harassment. Collect screenshots of text messages, images, videos, and supporting notes which you can present to the school that the bully attends or to the online platform itself.
- Block the bullies. Reviewing the privacy settings and connections on all of your child’s online accounts can help prevent bullies from making contact again.
2. Inappropriate or upsetting content
Over half of 11 to 16-year-olds have seen explicit material online — such as in games that include scenes of violence, horror, drugs, or sexual content [*]. If unprepared for it, this content can be confusing or disturbing and have a lasting impact on young minds.
- They suddenly use bad language. If your normally well-mannered child begins using more profane language, video games (or other online gamers) may be influencing them.
- They seem upset or withdrawn. Children who witness disturbing videos may have nightmares or seem worried about something after returning from a friend's house.
- They get in trouble at school. Children who play violent games are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. If your child ends up in the principal’s office for fighting, gaming content may be a factor.
What you can do as a parent:
- Create a family media plan. Talk to your child about inappropriate content, and set clear boundaries about what's allowed.
- Block or filter inappropriate content. Aura’s Content Filters allow you to block or limit your children’s access to specific sites, apps, and games on their smartphones and computers.
- Keep game consoles in common areas. Keep consoles and gaming in open spaces where you can see what’s going on and which games your kids are playing.
🎯 Related: Is Roblox Safe For Kids? 2023 Guide For Parents →
3. Account takeovers and hacking
Unfortunately, children aren’t always well-versed in online safety and often use (and reuse) weak passwords across accounts or share them with friends. If nefarious individuals get your child's login credentials, these predators can take over the account.
Hackers who steal passwords can make fraudulent in-game purchases, release embarrassing photos (doxxing), or impersonate your child by sending inappropriate or scam messages to other accounts.
- Strange messages. If you or someone you know receives weird messages from your child's account, the account may have been hacked.
- Unfamiliar charges. If you notice unauthorized charges on your statement from games your kids play, your child may not be responsible.
- Attempts to change account information. Hackers may try to reset your child’s password or phone number. If you get an alert to these changes, it could be an attempted takeover.
What you can do as a parent:
- Use secure passwords and store them in a password manager. Aura’s robust password manager, which is included in every Aura plan, allows you and your kids to create and store unique, complex passwords for each account.
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA). This is an additional security step in the login process — for example, a text message verification or biometric confirmation.
- Contact the platform about the breach. If your account is compromised, get in touch with the platform to regain access and improve your account security.
🎯 Related: Is Fortnite Safe For Kids? What Parents Need To Know →
4. Malware and viruses
Hackers may use fake websites or game downloads to infect your child’s computer with malware, ransomware, or spyware. Once hacked, scammers can monitor your children’s online activity, spy on them, or even potentially extort your children.
- Your passwords don’t work. If you are suddenly signed out of your accounts or your usual passwords get rejected, you might have been hacked.
- Pop-ups or unfamiliar programs on your devices. If programs start up unexpectedly when you turn on your computer — especially content you didn’t download — it could be a virus.
- Your computer is running slowly. Many malicious programs run in the background, causing your computer to work harder. If sites are slow to load or if your mouse is dragging or freezing, it’s worth finding out why.
What you can do as a parent:
- Educate kids about phishing scams. Get your children to read blogs and watch videos about how scams work so that they can spot the warning signs of phishing and know not to open links or attachments.
- Scan your devices for malware. Aura’s antivirus software spots malware before it can secretly gather and share personal information with thieves. Run scans to isolate threats from spyware, ransomware, adware, and trojans.
5. Identity theft and privacy issues
Cybercriminals target children for their clean credit histories and lack of awareness about online security. As your children chat with others online, they may unwittingly share personal details — for example, their address, phone number, or even your credit card details.
- Unfamiliar credit card activity. Beware of fraud alerts or unfamiliar transactions on your statement. If you receive mail about a new line of credit, somebody might have applied for a credit card or a loan in your name.
- Unexpected contact from debt collectors. Letters, calls, or visits from collection agencies about debts that you didn’t take out are clear signs that someone has stolen your identity.
- Alerts from the Social Security Administration (SSA). When cybercriminals steal a child’s Social Security number (SSN), they could rack up debts for years in the child’s name. If you already have SSN monitoring, an alert about suspicious activity could save your child from massive fraudulent debt.
What you can do as a parent:
- Switch profile settings to private. Make sure your child’s gaming profiles aren’t publicly visible to others, so their personal information — and yours — remain hidden.
- Avoid third-party downloads. Identity thieves can insert malware into pirated games and cheat codes [*]. Advise children to stick to the official app stores, and read reviews before downloading anything.
- Set up child SSN monitoring. Aura monitors your child’s SSN and can warn you if someone is trying to use it online.
6. Online predators
While gaming online, your kids will interact with strangers — many of whom exploit the anonymity of avatars to hide their real identities. Sadly, sexual predators use gaming platforms to target potential victims. If they build online relationships with children, this could lead to offline dangers.
In August 2022, a Texan man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to get young children to send him inappropriate photos. The convicted sex offender contacted at least three kids through a PlayStation game [*].
- Private conversations with your child. Pay close attention if you learn that your child is chatting directly with strangers online. Predators often encourage kids to move conversations to WhatsApp or Discord in order to evade gaming platform security measures.
- Someone asks for personal information. Online predators may take great interest in finding out about your child. This behavior could be the prelude to identity theft or something more sinister.
- Someone is praising your child. Another telltale sign of online grooming is when a stranger regularly tells children that they are important, smart, beautiful, or funny. Constant praise is an effort to win a child's trust.
What you can do as a parent:
- Discuss risky behavior. As children become curious about topics such as violence, sex, or drugs, they may seek out people who talk about these subjects. Speaking openly with your children can help them feel comfortable opening up to you if someone is being inappropriate with them.
- Highlight the dangers of chat rooms. Kids may not know how to end an online relationship with a manipulative stranger. You can help them handle online conversations and understand how to use chat rooms responsibly.
- Monitor your child’s conversations responsibly. While you want to respect your child's autonomy, Aura can monitor and alert you to inappropriate or potentially dangerous conversations that take place over gaming platforms.
7. Excessive in-game spending
The average cost of a new video game is about $70 [*]. But in-game spending can run into the thousands, as players pay real money for in-app bonuses, downloadable content, virtual items, and loot boxes.
These micro-transactions can quickly add up. In 2021, a 10-year-old girl racked up $7,200 on her father’s credit card while buying in-game items on Roblox [*].
- A series of small charges. Many in-game purchases are small. If you spot a string of small charges on your statement, your child may be spending freely.
- Your child is boasting about gaming assets. If you hear your children talking to friends or siblings about new items, it’s worth checking how they acquired them.
- Missing credit card bills. Older teens may attempt to hide their in-game spending by fishing their parents’ bills from the mail.
What you can do as a parent:
- Establish a gaming budget. A clear monthly budget helps track and review spending on everything from in-app purchases to the latest VR headset. As your children learn the consequences of overspending, they can get better at money management.
- Set up payment notifications. Mobile alerts will help prevent frivolous spending or nasty surprises on your monthly statement.
- Block spending access. Some children might not be able to follow your rules. Use tighter parental controls, like MFA or passwords, to stop in-game spending that occurs without your permission.
🎯 Related: How To See What Your Kids Are Doing Online →
8. Devoting too much time to gaming
Over 51 million American children play video games [*]. But while gaming is just a hobby for some people, it's an obsession for others. Severe gaming addiction can impact your child's sleep, schoolwork, relationships, and physical and mental health.
In an October, 2022 New York Times article, a game developer explained how companies in the gaming industry intentionally create games to be addictive. With this inside knowledge, the developer claimed that he will never let his daughters play the games his company created [*].
- Video games dominate your child’s life. Your child constantly talks about games and shows little interest in other conversations or activities.
- Mood swings happen during downtime. When children have to give up their habits for a while, they may become angry, aggressive, or depressed.
- Personal hygiene or sleep issues. As gaming time takes precedence over self-care, your child may soon show signs of personal neglect. If teachers complain that your son or daughter is falling asleep in class, it’s time to pull the plug.
What you can do as a parent:
- Create a gaming agreement. Talk with your children to set conditions they must meet before gaming. For example, they must shower, tidy their rooms, and complete all of their homework. There should be consequences if they break the rules (i.e., no gaming for two days).
- Set clear time limits. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should limit their children’s screen time to one hour per day [*].
- Reward other recreational activities. Help your children find balance by encouraging them to pursue other activities, such as sports, music, or art. When they take an interest in these activities, reward their efforts.
- Address the underlying issues. If your child displays signs of attention disorders, don’t stop with gaming restrictions. Take your child to a specialist to see if there is anything else at play and if screen time may be negatively affecting your child’s physical and emotional well-being.
🎯 Related: How To Keep Your Kids and Teens Safe on Social Media →
How To Keep Your Kids Safe When Gaming Online
- Choose games together as a family. Stick with known publishers so that you can check reviews and ratings and be confident there’s no hidden inappropriate content or malware.
- Create a gaming contract with your child. Sit down with your children to discuss their gaming habits. Create a written and signed agreement that clearly outlines approved content, time limits, rules, and consequences.
- Offer rewards that encourage a balanced lifestyle. Every hour spent outside, for example, could unlock another 15 minutes of weekend gaming time.
- Keep gaming consoles and gaming activities in open spaces. Monitor your children’s gaming time and what content they’re experiencing by insisting that consoles remain in communal areas.
- Limit the personal information that you share. Encourage good digital security practices by teaching your kids not to share their real names, phone numbers, or other information with strangers online.
- Use strong and unique passwords for all of your online accounts. Someone who hacks your child's gaming account could seize your financial information and personal data.
- Set up two-factor authentication (2FA). This additional step in the login process helps combat fraudulent attempts to access your child’s gaming profiles.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) when gaming online. A reliable VPN will hide your family’s location, personal data, and browsing activity from hackers.
- Put restrictions on in-app payments. Block upsells completely in games, or use platform-specific gift cards to provide a small budget for in-game spending.
- Get on their level. Not all gaming experiences have regular checkpoints that allow users to save their progress. If you take an authoritarian approach to pulling the cord when dinner is ready, it can be frustrating for your child. By understanding how the games work, you and your kids can work together to avoid conflicts.
- Keep a close watch on chat activity. Your children may use group chats or private chats online. If you’re concerned about whom they’re communicating with, use the settings to turn off or limit access to chat functions and Telegram.
- Talk to your kids about what to do if they encounter inappropriate content. There's always a chance that your kid could see something explicit online. With open dialogue about the realities of the internet, you can provide a safe space for your children to come to you if there's a problem.
- Stay involved. By showing a genuine interest in playing games with your children and praising their abilities and accomplishments, you can use this as a chance to bond. A close-knit gaming culture in your family can prevent your kids from becoming isolated if they face online gaming risks, such as predators or cyberbullies.
How To Set Up Parental Controls on Your Kids’ Consoles and Devices
Parental controls can help you manage your child’s use of video games and online content by restricting access to specific games or sites, setting time limits, and monitoring chat conversations.
Here’s how to set up parental controls on the most popular gaming consoles and devices.
Playstation 5 (PS5)
Before using the parental controls on PS5, you must create accounts for yourself and your children. After that, follow these steps to block games based on age rating, restrict chat access, and set limits on console use and spending:
- Sign into Account Management, then go to Family Management.
- Select your name, and tick the checkbox for Parent/Guardian. Any time you wish to change the Parental Controls, you must turn on the console and log in to your Parent/Guardian account.
- When logged in, scroll to the right and select the Settings gear icon.
- Navigate to Family and Parental Controls > PS5 Console Restrictions and then set up your four-digit restriction passcode.
- Select PS5 Console Restrictions > Parental Controls for New Users.
Once you’ve created a Microsoft account (on the console or by visiting the Microsoft website), you can set up parental controls on your Xbox console. Here’s how:
- Download the Xbox Family Settings app from the Google Play Store or App Store.
- Log in to your Microsoft account, and then select Add Them Now > Create Child Account > Next.
- After adding your children’s accounts, select their profile names to set up restrictions. You can block chat features, monitor their friend lists, and set screen time limits.
- Open the Windows search bar at the bottom left corner of your screen, and enter “Family options” and then click on suggest.
- Select View Family Settings from the Systems Settings.
- You will be redirected to Microsoft’s website. There, you must create a separate account for your child.
- Enable parental controls on your child’s new account. Your account must be appointed as the “Organizer” to adjust controls on other accounts.
- Once you enable parental controls, the chosen accounts will automatically take on the restrictions. For example, you may block the InPrivate browsing option and require kids to ask you before they make any purchases.
For added security, you can use Aura’s Safe Gaming tools to monitor your child’s text and voice conversations when playing PC games. Try Aura free for 14 days.
- On the Home Menu, navigate to System Settings and then Parental Controls.
- Create a four-digit PIN, and select a secret question (you should also set up a backup email address in case you forget either of them).
- Now you can configure your settings — such as restricting browser use, online interaction, access to Nintendo 3DS shopping services, friend registration, and more.
- Edit the Parental Control settings based on the player's age. For example, you can set different boundaries for your 7-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son.
You can set up parental controls on Android through the Google Family Link app or the Google Play Store app. Here’s what to do:
- Open the Google Play app, and tap the profile icon in the top right corner.
- Select Settings > Family > Parental controls and then turn on parental controls.
- Create a PIN to stop children from accessing the parental controls.
- Select the type of content you want to filter — like specific apps, games, films, or books.
- Choose how to filter or restrict access. Google Play works with the rating systems from the Pan European Game Information (PEGI). You can easily filter video game content based on age recommendations.
The Bottom Line: Keep Your Kids Safe While Gaming
There’s no doubt that video games are fun. But while the characters and storylines are works of fiction, online gaming risks are real. Amid millions of honest gamers, there are cyberbullies, hackers, identity thieves, and sexual predators.
Without proper safeguards and proactive parenting, your children's gaming habits could have serious negative consequences on their offline lives. A dedicated digital security solution is the best way to keep your kids shielded from online gaming risks.
Aura helps keep your entire family safe online. With Aura, you get:
- Award-winning identity theft protection, including 24/7 three-bureau credit monitoring with rapid fraud alerts up to 250x faster than other digital security providers.
- VPN and antivirus software to protect your family’s devices, data, and internet connections against malware, spyware, and hacking.
- Parental controls including chat monitoring and real-time alerts and analytics about your child’s gaming activity.
- Dark Web monitoring to detect and warn you if any of your personal information is circulating on the Dark Web.
- Up to $5,000,000 insurance policy to cover eligible losses due to identity theft, such as stolen money, credit cards, and passports.
- White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists that provide U.S.-based 24/7 support to help you liaise with banks, creditors, and government agencies so that you can successfully recover from fraud.