Playing games online has always been a popular pastime for children. However, it has undergone a massive increase in popularity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of more time spent at home and restrictions on physical social contact. Also in common with many other online activities, there are both positive and negative aspects to gaming.

The commonly held traditional view that children’s gaming is largely a negative thing, is becoming rapidly overturned as more people appreciate its many positive aspects including the development of various cognitive, motor and life skills.

It is very important that you support your child’s interest in online gaming. Like many parents, you may have little or no interest in it yourself, but there are things you can do to both encourage them to find the best games as well as helping them avoid the negative aspects mentioned above. You may even find a favourite game for yourself.

The risks

Risks to children who play games online arise largely from the vast number of people both in the UK and abroad who are also playing, the minimal restrictions involved and the fact that they are not playing face-to-face.

  • Stranger danger can pose a risk to the safety of the child, or a risk of financial or identity theft to you, if your child overshares personal family information online. Cybercriminals also use gaming platforms and forums to recruit young people for illicit activities such as malware coding and money muling, and some radicalisation begins on gaming platforms.
  • Playing games with an inappropriate age rating, potentially exposing them to violent, sexual or other unsuitable content.
  • Playing games which either reference gambling, or involve gambling to, for example, predict results or win money.
  • Running up bills (for example, on in-game properties/in-app purchases), perhaps on your credit card.
  • Spending excessive time gaming, to the exclusion of social contact, exercise and schoolwork, and potential health risks.

Keep your child’s online gaming safe

  • Work with your child to find the best games for their age, interests and personality.
  • Help your child find games that broaden their horizons. Try these lists: Find Calm, Inhabit Other WorldsDevelop Critical Thinking and Be a Good Neighbour.
  • Join your child in online gaming from time to time and randomly. This will give you an idea of the games they’re playing and who they connect with.
  • Have open and honest conversations with your child about their online gaming and the risks involved including stranger danger, bullying and oversharing. Tell them that not everybody they meet on gaming platforms and forums is who they claim to be.
  • Set and monitor limits for the amount of daily or weekly time your child spends online gaming. AskAboutGames offers advice on how to do this.
  • Most consoles and many games offer an email report of player activity that is a useful talking point for parents and children.
  • You could pre-load some spending money on to their game, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.
  • Check PEGI (Pan European Game Information) age ratings of games to ensure your children aren’t accessing inappropriate content.
  • Don’t give your child access to your payment card details as extras can be very costly.
  • Impress upon your child that they can come to you or another responsible adult with any concerns. Depending on their age, you could also discuss how to report issues to the gaming platform and/or the police.

More information

The Family Video Game Database features comprehensive but easy-to-use information to help you research the online games your child does and could play – including content, features, benefits, negatives and age ratings. Visit 

Taming Gaming is a reference book by gaming expert Andy Robertson, who has been helping families get more from video games for 15 years. Andy is a journalist for national newspapers and broadcast. He also runs the Family Video Game Database.

In partnership with

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:

Identity theft

The crime of impersonating someone – by using their private information – for financial gain.