Student resting his arm on a table whilst playing on a laptop

What are the most common risks in gaming apps used by children and what do DSLs need to be aware of?

As students’ usage of gaming platforms and chat forums continues to rise, the risks of online safety are also increasing. Gaming and online chat platforms, such as Discord, Omegle and Roblox, are some of the riskiest apps on the market, with 770 serious risk alerts identified by our digital monitoring solution in 2021.

Understanding these risks and spotting them when they occur is an important task for DSLs and can prevent early-stage risks from escalating into real-life incidents.

With this year’s Safer Internet Day focussed on gaming and apps, we’ve highlighted three of the risks detected by our digital monitoring solution, Smoothwall Monitor, over the past year. These are stranger danger, sending nude imagery and viewing pornographic content.

Stranger danger

We’ve seen a huge increase in “stranger danger” incidents in 2021 – particularly where the gaming platform facilitates a child talking to a random stranger, either via text, audio or video.

Omegle is a gaming platform designed specifically to encourage children to speak to strangers. Students are able to join virtual rooms with complete strangers on the internet, at a click of a button and there’s no way to know who or what that person’s intentions are. Similarly, the forum Discord allows instant messaging, video chat and the sending of digital files amongst “servers”, which are online communities anyone can enter. And the platform Roblox allows strangers to chat online while gaming together.

Smoothwall’s research (outlined in our Guide to Active Monitoring) reveals that 95% of teachers rely on students to tell them if they are being cyberbullied, but only 5% of children will actually confide in a teacher. So, when it comes to protecting children on these platforms, having access to safeguarding technology like Smoothwall Monitor is essential. Similarly, DSLs should continue to educate students on the risks, while creating an open line of communication without fear of getting in trouble.

Sending nude imagery

Recent research from Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) ¹, revealed a worrying increase (186%) in child sexual content being shared online, particularly self-generated content including 7–10-year-olds.

Smoothwall Monitor detects three serious grooming incidents a day, and a further two students a day involved in an extremely serious incident, including a risk to health or life.

Any platform with the ability to send media to other users through a chat service such as Discord, Roblox, Omegle, carries this risk. For DSLs, this highlights why it’s vital to ensure moderated digital monitoring is in place across schools so that you can pick up on these types of behaviours and intervene immediately.

Pornographic content

22% of 8 to 15 years olds are chatting to people that they only know through playing an online game, and that’s a scary statistic. Not only is this figure rising, but it can lead to unsafe online behaviours, such as the sharing of pornographic content. This then leads to issues with children’s expectations around online relationships, and physical relationships.

Through our digital monitoring solution, we’ve been able to work with DSLs to help prevent serious harm to children. These are children who could have gone unnoticed or noticed too late. In fact, our data shows that every five minutes, Smoothwall Monitor spotted a child who was at serious risk. This is a 71% increase from the previous year – and a sign that an increase in online behaviour, largely due to the pandemic, may be the contributing factor.

The best way to help protect children and teens against risks from gaming is through a digital monitoring service. Digital monitoring flags students at-risk, early on, based on what they do, say or share in their digital lives which teachers and parents often don’t see, and which therefore often go unnoticed.

Helping schools and DSLs utilise their resources more effectively

Smoothwall’s human moderated, digital monitoring solution can help to detect students who may have become vulnerable from online gaming – as well as from activities. Our service works 24/7, 365 days a year, and is a virtual assistant to busy DSLs, removing false positives and sharing risks they need to know about, immediately. This is by email for lower graded risks or a phone call for more serious risks, including those risks to health or life. This means early intervention and improved student outcomes. In 2021, Smoothwall Monitor found a student facing a serious online risk every 5 minutes.

If you’re new to digital monitoring, our free ‘Complete Guide to Monitoring in Education’ whitepaper is available to download here and provides DSLs with everything you need to know.

And, if you’re interested in learning more about how DSLs can advise students to stay safe when playing games and apps, click here to read our other articles.

Interested in the benefits digital monitoring offers?

Find out more about Smoothwall’s multi-award-winning Monitor solution. Click here to book a free walkthrough and Q+A session with one of our monitoring experts.

Further reading

Other articles in this gaming series include:

Sources:

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