As entertainment technology offers children more ways to connect, it is important parents understand the risks and how to safely get the most out of these devices in the home.
Before even starting or choosing between the different games consoles therefore, it is important to know what kind-of connected interactions and services are available on them.
If you understand what each console is capable of, and how to limit a child's access, you can rest safe in the knowledge that the new console is being used responsibly. Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak.
Parents guide to games consoles: Streaming video
Beyond the interactive gaming experiences, apps and services are available on each of the main consoles, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U. They enable users to stream video and audio from a wide range of providers and share voice, video and recorded gameplay content.
This can range from spoken communication with other players in a game to sharing images on social networks. They can also access video content via video streaming apps, such as Now TV, BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Video.
Which of these features parents are comfortable with for their children will vary from family to family. Therefore, it’s important that parents spend time with the console when it first enters the home - before the kids are let loose on it - to set-up accounts and access for each family member.
Parents guide to games consoles: Set up profiles
While each of the main consoles have different systems to offer families control over what can and can't be accessed, the basic theory is the same throughout.
Usually grouped under the parental controls section of the console, you can specify what content can be accessed by children. Entering a password for the settings, or in some cases setting up user accounts or profiles for children, enables you to lock the PEGI and BBFC age ratings you are comfortable with. We've listed the locations where you can find exact instructions for each console below.
This means that children will need to ask for permission before accessing more mature content and creates a positive context for discussion around a game before it is played.
Parents guide to games consoles: Keep an eye on "friends"
These settings also enable parents to specify what other services can be accessed, such as internet browsing or sharing content with other users.
Part of this also enables you to limit how friend requests are dealt with - another important aspect of staying safe while gaming.
All consoles are social machines these days in that they allow users to build up and communicate with friends. Sometimes that's actual friends who also own the same console, but often can be just other gamers your child has met online.
These can be restricted through the parental controls, so you can limit what type of people your child can talk to online, hide a child's profile, or stop others contacting him or her at all.
As many safe and friendly games have online features, we find it is okay some interaction for older children, but maybe restrict what kind of friends they can make and how public their profile is. You can often limit the acceptance of online friends to other children you already know - school friends perhaps.
Parents guide to games consoles: Make games a family event
Alongside these protections it’s also important for parents to consider how and when games are played in the home. Many families choose to keep gaming in the shared social spaces rather than bedrooms. This not only makes it easier to keep an eye on content but also results in more of the family playing together and getting more from the games they enjoy.
Setting up separate users for each child enables parents to keep tabs of how long they play each week and what content they are accessing. The player history is another useful tool for conversations around finding a balance between screen time and other activities.
Parents guide to games consoles: Study the age rating descriptions
Finally, understanding more about the games being played by children is important. The PEGI ratings are expanded by the Games Rating Authority’s consumer information. This not only outlines why a game has a specific rating but also offers a succinct account of the gaming experience.
The GRA works with AskAboutGames to create Parent Quick video guides for all the PEGI 16 and PEGI 18 games released. These combine the ratings description with matching action from a game to offer parents an easy, swift guide to what matters.
Provided consoles are set-up correctly and parents take the opportunity to engage with their children’s gaming diet, this can be a hugely positive aspect of family life.
Played together, and with the appropriate restrictions, video-games offer a safe, secure and positive pastime.
Further reading about parental controls for games consoles and other important resources:
- PlayStation 4 parental controls
- Xbox One parental controls
- Wii U parental controls
- Games Rating Authority
- Ask About Games
- Internet Matters
At internetmatters.org parents can find all the advice they will need to keep their children safe online. Designed specifically for parents, the site offers a wealth of up-to-date, unbiased information and advice about how to deal with online safety. Parents can learn about the latest issues and technologies, get great tips on how to talk about online safety with their children and get the best advice on dealing with issues and taking action. Created with experts, Internet Matters provides detailed information, but also signposts to best-in-class resources from individual expert organisations. Our goal is to ensure parents can always access the information that they need, in a format that is clear and concise.