A friend of mine was bragging the other day about his teenage son’s gaming abilities. He told me that his kid plays some war game against his friends, but they were no longer any competition for him. Now his son plays a lot of his games against people he’s met through X-Box Live and is constantly talking with them through his headset.
As he was telling this story, my friend suddenly stopped, and asked, “Is it possible that some of these people are predators?” Of course it’s possible. Here are some things I told him about online offenders and how they connect with kids.
Offenders look for kids where they hang out. Since gaming consoles (like X-Box) are about as common for kids as Facebook, offenders spend a lot of time there. Because they play a lot of games, they also become very good players.
None of this may seem like a big deal if your son doesn’t do anything other than play a game. The problem is that it’s easy for someone to establish a “friendship” based solely on a game. When you have a common bond (gaming), the usual barriers for a predator are easily avoided. The longer a kid plays, and the more he talks with others, the greater the chance for him to share personal things about himself.
These gaming conversations, which may seem like no big deal to a teen, could be just the connection the offender is looking for. While playing the game, the first question could be “where are you?” Because you don’t know this guy and you’re careful about personal details, the answer is usually very general—I live in whatever city. But as they play over a long period of time, it becomes much easier to add things like the school you attend. As that information begins to flow, real names get added. For teens, time seems to equal friendship, so what’s the big deal in telling your new “buddy” your real name.
I told my friend he shouldn’t stop his son from playing online games, but should definitely have a conversation about sharing personal information with strangers. I said, even if he’s playing a game with people he does know, if strangers are also playing, he and his friends should avoid talking about personal things that identify them.
Offenders pay attention. They gather personal information over time and use that info to connect the dots to identify someone. We know to keep personal information from strangers in the real world; we should avoid giving that same personal info to strangers in the gaming world.
Former Missouri ICAC Commander Lt. Joe Laramie (retired) provides strategies and solutions for law enforcement and schools to address policy and training on a variety of technology and child exploitation issues.
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Categories: Cyber Safety