When my boys were in the thick of their teen years (pre pandemic), bad mouthing their seeming gaming obsession was almost a sport amongst my mum friends. And it would sound something like this: 
‘They just waste so much time on those stupid games’. ‘No matter what I try, I just can’t seem to get them off that silly Xbox’. ‘Can you believe they want to spend all their pocket money on the new version of COD?’ ‘I am so close to throwing all their gaming stuff in the bin!!’ 
Fast forward to life post pandemic and I think it’s fair to say that most of us have changed our attitude around gaming. There is no doubt that gaming helped many of us survive the incredible loneliness that resulted from protracted quarantine periods and seemingly endless lockdowns. It took just a few days of lockdown for things to change real fast in our house: daily gaming time caps were scrapped; screen time limits became a thing of history as survival became our top priority! 
Exactly How Much Gaming Is Happening In Australia? 
But now that life has returned to our ‘new normal’, have our gaming habits and attitudes really changed? Well, a 2022 report, entitled Digital Australia, has done a deep-dive into the gaming lives of Aussies and the insights are quite fascinating. Here are the most interesting takeaways: 

17 million Aussies play games.  
35 years is the age of the average player. 
83 minutes a day is what most players spend gaming. 
Gaming is the 2nd most popular ‘online’ household activity after streaming TV and movies. 
36% of participants have made friends through gaming. 
80% of participants believe gaming has a positive effect on their mental health. 
76% of parents play online games with their kids with the majority nominating connection as the motivation. 
2/3 of parents set rules for game play. 
70% of parents use parental controls. 

The Best Way to Stay Safe While Gaming 
So, there’s no doubt that gaming has become both a more regular and widely accepted part of our daily lives. But that doesn’t mean that we can take our eye off the ball. While there is a lot to love about gaming, there are still steps we should all take to ensure the experience is safe and positive for everyone, particularly our kids. Here are my top tips: 
1. Passwords 
If you read my blog regularly, I have no doubt you’re rolling your eyes! Yes, I’m talking about passwords again!! And here’s why – if you (or your kids) use the same password for each of your online accounts and one of those accounts get hacked, then you risk losing control of your entire digital life. Yes, I know it sounds dramatic but that is the reality. The easiest way of avoiding this scenario is by ensuring each of your online accounts, including your gaming accounts, has its own unique password. Now remember, passwords need to be at least 10 characters, have a combination of numbers, symbols and upper and lower-case letters and have no connection to anything about you at all. I’m a fan of a long, nonsensical sentence but, I’m an even bigger fan of a password manager that can both create and remember these unique passwords for you. Check out McAfee+ – it will make your life so much easier! 
2. Consider a VPN  
Keeping your location on the ‘down low’ when you game online is an important way of securing your privacy and a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) can do that. When you connect using a VPN, your location is concealed making it impossible for hackers or stalky types to find you. A VPN can also protect you against DDoS attacks which can be used by gaming opponents when the competition stakes are high! McAfee’s True Protection security software offers a VPN, check it out here. 
3. Say Yes To Two Factor Authentication 
‘Yes please’ needs to be the answer if your online gamer is offered 2-factor or multi factor authentication from a game or distributor. This adds another layer of security by adding an additional stage to the login process. Usually, a code will be sent to an email address or mobile phone number that needs to be entered before the user can access their account. And it appears as though distributors are getting behind player security with some games even offering in-game rewards to those who sign up for it. How good! 
4. Only Download Games (and Cheats) From Reputable Sources – No Exceptions! 
Scammers know we love gaming, so they have spent much energy creating websites that offer free downloads of the most popular online games. But unfortunately, visitors to these websites won’t be getting free games anytime soon as these websites are all about extracting vital personal information from gaming hungry types. So, ensure your kids understand this and that it is essential that they only download games, third-party add-ons, or cheat codes from reputable sites otherwise they risk introducing viruses or game malware into their beloved machines. 
5. Choosing The Right Games 
If you’ve got kids, then helping them choose the right games to play is essential. Instead of taking an authoritarian approach here, why not think of it as a collaboration? Ask them to do some research on the games they would like to play and ask them to include the recommended age, an overview of the content & whether there are privacy settings available. I then suggest reviewing the list together to see whether the potential games are good for problem solving skills, creativity, or purely social interactions. I also recommend checking out the Australian Classification Board’s review of potential games plus top notch digital parenting sites like Common Sense Media before making your final decision. 
Without doubt, the best way you can keep your kids safe while online gaming is to ensure the lines of communication are open and clear. If they know they can come to you if they experience an issue while gaming (and that you won’t immediately punish them and ack away the Xbox) then you’re ahead. Not sure how to kick start the communication? How about a family session on the Xbox. I promise, it will be time well spent! 
Happy digital parenting! 
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