Widespread access to online and social gaming means SA’s children – and their families – could face a range of new risks
Living in a country exposed to high levels of crime, South Africans do what we can to keep our children safe and secure. Some live in gated communities, others install CCTV cameras and 24/7 surveillance, yet many leave the door wide open when it comes to allowing youngsters to join gaming servers, where they can engage with thousands of cyber strangers.
Although online gaming allows for social interaction and the development of coping skills for an ever-changing future environment, online gaming has also become the territory of predators. Very popular online games have become the new frontier for criminal activities and the playground has now become the ‘prey ground’.
The risk is highest among the very young, who are most susceptible to online influences. According to Statista, there are 22 million mobile device users in South Africa, of which 68% are children aged 2 – 17. In many cases, these children are browsing and gaming without adult supervision.
Being alert to ‘stranger danger’ is more difficult in the gaming environment, where gamers can escape reality and take on a different identity. This means predators may appear to be other children, and children can assume the identities of older youths.
They share experiences away from the scrutiny of those sharing the household and away from the public eye. They build relationships with profiles in the cloud and most children are completely oblivious to the fact that they are possibility being groomed and may be about to fall prey to a predator. This often leads to kids turning against their parents, inappropriate messaging, webcam chats or even face-to-face meetings that could lead to sexual exploitation and worse, kidnapping and stalking.
The anonymity of this environment creates a breeding ground for character deformation, with children often daring actions they would not try in reality, such as virtual gang activities, sex offences, stealing, and even murder.
Adding to these risks, children are typically less aware of the risks of cybercrime, and quite likely to fall victim to fake links and downloads. Trojans masquerade as legitimate downloads and may take control of devices. User name and password breaches give access to personal information and IP addresses that could expose not only the gamer, but the privacy of a whole household.
Safe online gaming shouldn’t be taken lightly and it is imperative for parents to take a keen interest in their children’s online and gaming habits, and to educate children to make safer online gaming decisions.
Communicate with children about the gaming dangers, take precautions where possible and make sure they are vigilant about sharing personal information or downloading suspicious content.
By Christine Nel, Commercial Director, Maxtec