If there’s a teenager in your house, there’s a good chance that a gift related to video gaming was part of your Christmas giving.
According to Pew Research Center, nearly every teenage boy — 97% — participates in gaming, as well as about 83% of girls.
The hugely popular Fortnite has roughly 250 million users. PlayStation has nearly 100 million monthly active users.
In 2020, the video games market is expected to be a $90 billion industry in the U.S.
And most teens know way more about all things gamer than their parents do. That’s why, no doubt, parents of gamers take the time to review tutorials about parental controls and talk with teens about the dangers of gaming, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Even if parents do talk to kids, that conversation usually is related to limiting screen time and avoiding games with graphic violence. The discussion that parents and kids might not have is warning kids that gaming worlds have become hunting grounds for predators.
A New York Times series this month reported shocking stories of teenagers lured into conversations with predators through multiplayer video games and chat apps. Once the relationship is established, predators — often posing as children themselves — detail a story of hardship, building trust with their victims.
Over time, they are able to dupe children into sharing semi-explicit photos and videos of themselves. Then, the predators have leverage. Threats to send out the photos to friends and family members is the typical bait used to garner more explicit photos — and even photos of other children, in many cases.
The Times combed through court and police records and found reports of abuse skyrocketing, with some predators grooming hundreds and even thousands of teens and children. Multiplayer games were the most frequent target, though similar ploys are happening on social media apps like Instagram.
Like a lot of issues that teens and parents face, addressing this one is complicated, but it usually begins with a conversation. Online safety experts say parents need to know what games their children are playing, and kids need to know the tools available to them — like blocking users, shutting off chat functions and telling an adult if a user asks anything that makes the child uncomfortable.
For most teenagers, gaming will be a part of life. But families need to be aware of the real dangers lurking in the virtual world.
To report online child sexual abuse or find resources for those in need of help, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.