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Protecting children from online video game bullies

Posted at 8:00 AM, Sep 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-03 09:00:51-04

Bullies aren't just on playgrounds anymore.

They've found a new place to lurk, and they can get right past you, and right to your kids.

It's through online gaming, and the bullies can be cruel.

"I play with my friends. We laugh all the time. It is a fun game."

Josiah is like most 15-year-olds, he enjoys hanging out with friends and plays games like Fortnite online.

"If I don't have to do anything that day, I probably play it for like six hours before I get bored of it," Josiah says.

But he knows players can be pretty tough, especially against new players.

"We usually call them noobs... They do get like, you're a noob, because you don't have a skin. Sometimes people make fun of you if you don't have a skin."

Skins refer to the different outfits you buy for your character.

If you don't have the best skins, you can expect to be ridiculed.

Child counselor Heather Doto says, "Kids are getting obsessed with having the skins for Fortnite because that's the level where you want to be. It's a symbol of being a higher level in the game."

Doto says Fortnite, and other popular games, can harbor a real cutthroat mentality, where players fight for a spot in the hierarchy.

In fact, some players called "Griefers" take it to another level.

"These griefers are people who just completely harass people online simply because it's fun to them," Doto says.

But if you don't think this effects your child, guess again.

Doto says, "One in two online gamers has experienced bullying. So it's a very high rate that this happens."

Doto says things can escalate quickly.

Griefers aren't worried about backlash, since there's no accountability.

Players find escape through their characters, which allow them to stay anonymous.

"This is another real world to them. It's a virtual real world. Not only is it somebody else they can be. It might be somebody that they would rather be," Doto says.

But bullies aren't your only concern.

Doto says, "You're leaving the door open for predators."

Adults can easily pose as a young player trying to make friends with other kids.

Josiah says he has a friend who had a strange encounter once with an unknown player.

"They wanted to buy them something. They were like, what's your address? So I can mail it to you. Then they're like, no," Josiah says.

This is exactly why it's so important to get involved in protecting your loved ones from predators and bullies.

To do that, first, pay attention.

Doto says, "You should always know what your children are doing online."

Be sure to look for any changes in your child's behavior.

It can vary from a loss of appetite to mood swings.

"If they start withdrawing from the family a little bit more, if they seem a little bit more isolated, start paying attention. Start asking questions," Doto says.

As for parents who might be concerned with invading their child's privacy, Doto says it's a decision each parent needs to make.

"Are you just going to let everyone online choose how your child is going to feel? Or are you going to kind of interfere to make sure that you have some say in the matter? That's really what it comes down to."

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