PARENTS IN IRELAND are being urged to think about the potential impact of allowing their children to play video games aimed at adults – even if they are playing the games with them.
Last week children’s rights groups welcomed a committee decision not to raise the age of digital consent in proposed data protection legislation from 13 to 16. However, they said this does not mean greater protections and regulations around children’s use of digital devices and the internet are not needed.
Alex Cooney of Cybersafe Ireland said her organisation’s research shows many children are playing video games made for adults – with 26% of nine-year-old playing over 18s games. This rises to 38% for 12-year-olds.
She said it is not only the content of these games, which can be violent or frightening for children, that causes an issue. Many of the video game devices are connected to the internet and feature some kind of messaging facility – including private messaging – which potentially allows adults all over the world to interact with the child.
“Children are also being exposed to the content and language of other players if there is a conversation as part of the game,” Cooney explained.
“These games are designated 18 for a reason, and there are children who are playing Grand Theft Auto with their parents. Parents need to understand the ramifications of that.”
Grainia Long from the ISPCC said parents can often feel that if their child is physically close to them, then they are safe. She said children who have played adult video games, either with an older sibling or cousin, or a parent, sometimes call Childline because the game made them uncomfortable or scared them.
“Some children will call us and say ‘I don’t want to play that game’.”
She said children are not always sure how to tell the person they played the game with that they did not like it.
“This is all about how the parents react and talk to children .”
Long said this also applies to situations in which the child has accessed inappropriate content online without the parent’s permission.
“We get calls from children who have made the wrong decision online, often they call because they regret the decision and they have just understood the implications. They feel they have done something wrong and they’re scared to tell their parents.”