Online gaming is an increasingly popular pastime. You’ve probably heard of the most popular titles and maybe even played them yourself! There are many benefits of gaming for young people and adults alike. It’s a way to relax and unwind. It’s a common way for children and young people to connect with their friends and make new ones – which may be particularly relevant for foster children who have moved home and still have friends in different towns and counties around the country. Studies have also shown that it may increase cognitive ability, not to mention it teaches valuable lessons like teamwork and the importance of learning from your mistakes. However, there are a number of risks associated with online gaming as well. To make sure you and your foster child can stay safe – and have fun! – online, we look at some of the dangers of online gaming for foster children as well as solutions to keep everyone safe.

And if you’re interested in fostering, please reach out to Orchard Fostering today. We’re available on the phone or via email – you can also fill out a form directly on our contact page.

What are the risks of online gaming for foster children and teens?

Online gaming addiction: This happens when playing a game becomes so compulsive that it interferes with other aspects of a young person’s life, such as schoolwork, relationships, health and even hygiene. If left unchecked gaming addiction can cause withdrawal symptoms, irritability, aggression and mood swings. Foster children in particular may have experienced trauma or abuse that makes them more susceptible to using gaming as a coping mechanism.

Contact with strangers: Some games allow players to chat or voice-chat with other players who are online, which, like the dangers of social media, can expose them to inappropriate or harmful messages, cyberbullying, or even grooming. Because of the anonymity of the internet, it can be difficult to verify the identity and age of online contacts. Children who have attachment issues may be more susceptible to seeking validation or comfort from online contacts and be more at risk in this regard.

Physical health: Playing games for too long or without breaks can have negative effects on children’s physical health and development, such as eye strain, headaches, back pain, sleep problems and weight gain. It can also affect mental health, increasing stress, anxiety or causing depression.

Online gaming costs and in-game purchases: Some games require or encourage players to spend real money on in-game items, subscriptions, loot boxes or microtransactions. This can lead to overspending, debt or in the worst case, gambling addiction.

Inappropriate content: Some games contain violent, sexual or offensive content that may not be suitable for young people. Exposure to such content can affect their attitudes, values and behaviour in real life if they’re too young to understand the differences between fiction and reality.

How to protect foster children against the risks of online gaming

Encourage an open dialogue: Even if you don’t like online gaming or have a negative view towards it, like most topics, it’s important to encourage your foster child to come to you with any problems or issues they’re having. That’s unlikely to happen if they think you’ll be angry or judgemental with them. Instead, be balanced in your approach. Let them know the good things about gaming and that it can be safe so long as they follow the rules. It’s a great idea to play new games with them, so you’re aware of what the game is like and how they’re using it.

Enable parental controls: Most age-appropriate games have parental controls you can enable to make sure your foster child is protected when online. Whether this involves chat monitoring or restricted to contacts your child already knows, these features are designed to keep your child safe from risks. For foster teens or young adults in supported lodgings who may be playing more advanced games, make sure that they’re educated about online safety and are playing in a responsible way. It’s a good idea to do regular check-ins and privacy setting check-ups with them.

Set rules: In other houses, foster children may have had different rules or expectations about online gaming, so it’s important to be clear about the rules you’re expecting them to follow. Rather than enforcing ready-made rules on them, it could be beneficial to come up with the rules together. That way your foster child or teen will feel like they’ve been involved with the process and might be more likely to understand the reasons behind these rules. Be sure to set realistic time limits on how long they can spend online gaming, as well as pre-set break-times. Also, make sure they know what age-rating games they’re allowed – and not allowed – to play. Once foster children and teens know the rules expected of them, it’s entirely possible for them to enjoy online gaming in a safe and positive way.

Foster care services and support

At Orchard Fostering we provide a wide range of support and training to our foster parents. Among many other areas, this includes how to keep your foster child safe online. This is a great way to become familiar with aspects of digital safety you may be unaware of and educate yourself and your foster child about how to best protect themselves online.

If you’re interested in fostering, please reach out to Orchard Fostering today. We’re available on the phone or via email – you can also fill out a form directly on our contact page.