As entertainment technology offers kids 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.
So before choosing between different games consoles or booting them up for the first time, it is important to know what kind-of connected interactions and services are available. And what a child is able to access.
If you understand what each console is capable of, you can rest safe in the knowledge that the new console is being used responsibly. Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak.
Beyond the interactive gaming experiences, apps and services are available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. 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.
The PS4 and Xbox One can each also access video content via video streaming apps, such as Now TV, BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The Nintendo Switch has just the one service, YouTube.
Allowable access to any of these 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.
Most streaming video services have their own restrictions and settings for parents to explore. Netflix, for example, has different profiles for different family members that can restrict content to specific age groups. You are advised to check the settings, therefore, for each service.
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.
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.
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.
Study the age rating descriptions
Finally, understanding more about the games being played by children is important. The PEGI ratings are expanded by the Video Standards Council’s consumer information. This not only outlines why a game has a specific rating but also offers a succinct account of the gaming experience.
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.