Need help dealing with violent or distressing online content? Learn more

Gaming

Many young people enjoy online gaming – from simple puzzle-based play through to strategic multiplayer games and creating their own virtual worlds.

Gaming can help improve your child’s coordination, problem-solving and multi-tasking skills, as well as build social skills through online interactivity with other players. Games can also be a great way to connect with your child and strengthen family relationships. But it’s also important to understand what can go wrong and how to keep your child safe.

In short:

  • Online gaming has a range of benefits for children and young people and can help them to develop important skills.  
  • You can support your child and help them manage time online by empowering them and being involved when they play.
  • Gaming can expose young players to risks like cyberbullying and sexual grooming. 
    Some games simulate or encourage gambling through the spending of real money or incentives such as tokens and points.

What is gaming?

Gaming involves playing computer or video games and provides an opportunity for children and young people to communicate, share content and be part of a community group. 

Online games are usually played using the internet with friends. They can be accessed, downloaded and played using different devices like computers, smartphones, virtual reality headsets and specialised gaming consoles. 

Offline games, or games played in offline modes, are often played alone or with people in the same room using the same device, which means they are sometimes safer and ideal for younger children.

How common is gaming?

89% of Australian children aged 8 to 17 have played an online game in the last year

94% of young gamers had ‘positive feelings’ when they were gaming online

91% of parents play games with their children to connect as a family (Australia Plays 2023)

79% have played a multiplayer online game with others

40% have played online with people they did not know offline

32% have experienced bullying or abuse while playing a network game with others

Read eSafety’s research looking into The risks and benefits of online gaming for young people.

How to create a safe gaming environment for your child

Young gamers said they felt happy and socially connected, had fun and enjoyed being helpful or supported when they were gaming.

It’s important to encourage your child to have these positive experiences, while helping to protect them from risks like cyberbullying and exposure to harmful content. You can use these tips to help you:

Prepare

  • Set up the computer or games console in an open area of your home. For example, if your child is playing on their handheld device you can ask them to play in the family room.
  • Install up to date security software on all devices to protect against viruses, malware and other online threats. 
  • Activate parental controls and safety features on the device or in the app or browser. These controls can help restrict access to certain content and limit spending on in-game and in-app purchases. See our advice on parental controls.

Build good habits

  • Help your child to protect their privacy online and suggest they use a screen name that’s different to their real name. 
  • Set clear standards and expectations to avoid conflicts, disagreements and/or aggressive behaviour. 
  • Encourage upstander behaviour and help-seeking to create a safe and positive gaming environment.
  • Teach your child not to click on links provided by strangers, like ‘cheat’ programs to help with gameplay, that might expose their device to viruses or malware.
  • Agree on strategies to help them to switch off, like a timer that signals game time is nearly over, with consequences for not switching off.

Stay involved

  • Talk with your child about their gaming and who they play with online. Support their positive connections while helping them understand the risks.
  • Play alongside your child or watch their gaming to get a better sense of how they are handling their personal information and who they are communicating with.
  • Take an interest by asking about the storyline or characters in the game if you don’t feel comfortable playing the game yourself, or your child doesn’t want to play with you. Use eSafety’s guide to Better conversations about gaming for families to help you. 
  • Encourage your child to tell you if they experience anything that worries them or makes them uncomfortable. 
  • Monitor the time your child spends online and watch for any changes in their activity, school or social behaviours, in case something might be wrong.

Choose suitable games

Video games can include a wide variety of content and are classified according to their suitability for certain age groups. Games vary in their level of violent or sexual content, and may contain themes, language and images that are unsuitable for your child. 

eSafety can direct an online service or platform to remove illegal content or ensure that restricted content can only be accessed by people who are 18 or older. Illegal and restricted online content can include material that shows or encourages child sexual abuse, terrorism or other extreme violence.

Learn more about how eSafety helps to regulate illegal and restricted online content.

Empower your child

  • Wherever possible, help them make wise decisions for themselves, rather than telling them what to do. 
  • Give them strategies for dealing with negative online experiences that will build their confidence and resilience. Use our online gaming advice for young people to support you.

What is the right amount of gaming time?

Even though gaming can be positive, it needs to be balanced with other meaningful activities like getting enough sleep, connecting with family, socialising with friends, being active and completing schoolwork. 

There is no magic number of hours, but your child may be spending too much time playing games if their gaming starts to have negative impacts on them or your family.

Look out for signs such as:

  • less interest in social activities like meeting friends or playing sport
  • not doing so well at school  
  • tiredness, sleep disturbance, headaches or eye strain 
  • changes in eating patterns
  • reduced personal hygiene
  • obsession with particular websites or games
  • getting angry when being asked to take a break from online activity, or appearing anxious or irritable when away from the computer
  • becoming withdrawn from friends and family.

In some cases, setting clear limits as a family may be enough to help you to deal with too much gaming. But if you notice any changes in your child that concern you, contact a counselling or support service to help you. 

You can also read eSafety’s guide to managing screen time for parents and carers to manage the amount of time your child spends gaming or create a Family Tech Agreement together.

Cyberbullying and sexual grooming

Online multiplayer games give gamers the opportunity to play with people from all over the world. Children often like to play in teams or have competitive matches with their friends, but sometimes they might be playing and communicating with children and adults they don’t know. This can increase the risk of being bullied or groomed for online sexual exploitation.

eSafety’s research into The risks and benefits of online gaming for young people showed that:

children aged 11 to 12 are most likely to be bullied by other players

78% of young people restrict who they communicate with in online games

41% ignored the bullying and 38% stopped playing a game with the person

nearly 30% reported the bullying to game moderators.

 

Tips to help keep your child safe

Help them to maintain their privacy

  • Encourage your child not to share personal information like their full name, birthdate, address, phone number, school name or identifiable photos.
  • Suggest they use an avatar or other image with a screen name that does not reveal their real name.

Watch out for grooming behaviour

  • Ask your child to tell you immediately if a stranger tries to start a sexual conversation or requests personal information.
  • Report inappropriate behaviour to your local police or Crimestoppers if you suspect your child is being groomed by a sexual predator online. 
  • Read more about grooming and unwanted contact for parents and carers.

Support your child if they experience bullying

  • Suggest they do not respond to the bully or retaliate. 
  • Help them to record or screenshot the harassing messages or write down the people involved in the incident.
  • Help them block, mute or ‘unfriend’ the person from their players list, or turn off the in-game chat function.
  • Help them report the behaviour to the game site or platform administrator.
  • Read our guide to cyberbullying for parents and carers, and find out how to make a report about online abuse.

Setting limits on in-game purchases

Many games allow you to make in-game purchases. This includes buying additional game content or in-game currency that can be used to purchase items or improve their performance - making the game easier to win. 

Some games are free to download but require payments to advance beyond a certain point or to access additional content that’s not available in the free version — like special powers for a character. Similar incentives to buy may also be offered in paid games.

Talk with your child about costs

  • Talk with your child about how small purchases in games and apps can add up quickly and that sometimes it can be difficult to tell how much is being spent, because games use a different currency.
  • Set a reasonable weekly or monthly spend for apps, games and data, and help your child track their usage, so they can make good choices.

Use parental controls

Ensure you have set the parental controls on mobile devices and gaming consoles to limit in-game and in-app purchases, so your child has to ask to buy additional items. See our advice on parental controls.

Consider keeping passwords for the App Store or Google Play to yourself so your child cannot purchase apps and add-ons without you knowing. You can also set up ‘family sharing’ so any purchases must be approved by you.

Gambling themes in online games

Games that feel like gambling or with gambling-like elements may make gambling more familiar and ‘normal’ for young people.

Be aware of games with gambling-like elements such as:

  • games that simulate a gambling activity like poker, slots, blackjack or roulette – even if they don’t give your child the opportunity to bet, win or lose real money, they include actions similar to real gambling and often look and sound the same
  • games that incorporate ‘loot’ boxes (‘bundles’, ‘crates’ and ‘cases’) and include items like in-game currency, equipment, weapons or ‘skins.’ Players can earn or purchase access to a loot box without knowing the value of what is inside (like a lucky dip) and these  features can make it seem normal to pay for something whose value depends on chance
  • ‘skins’ that are used in some games to alter the appearance of a player’s weapon, equipment or avatar – although they cannot be exchanged for real money within the game, they may be used to gamble and be converted to cash on third party websites. 

Read more about what to look for on The Australian Classification Board database. This site also includes relevant consumer advice about simulated gambling, gambling references and gambling themes. 

Talk with your child about gambling

  • Help your child understand that some features in online games are used to encourage more play and spending. Talk with them about gambling, what it is, and its consequences - both online and in the physical world. You can find some helpful conversation starters on the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation website.
  • Make sure your child talks to you about any in-game and in-app purchases first so that you know when and why they need to use an account, and how much they are spending.

Use parental controls

Report where relevant

If you need to make a complaint about certain types of interactive gambling services, contact The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA).

How can I tell if my child is gambling?

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation lists some signs to look out for that might suggest a young person is beginning to gamble (associated with online games or otherwise). These include:

  • spending time talking or thinking about gambling
  • obsessing about simulated gambling apps and games
  • focussing on the odds when watching sport, instead of the game
  • borrowing money from family and friends
  • being secretive about their activities
  • having mood swings or appearing stressed
  • feeling depressed, including wanting to engage less with friends
  • skipping school or not doing as well as usual.

If you think your child might be gambling online, and it’s negatively impacting their health or wellbeing, contact a counsellor or mental health practitioner for support. 

Get support

If you have concerns about your child and online gaming or gambling, seek professional advice from your GP, a psychologist or school counsellor.

Check out counselling and support services.

Helplines

Kids Helpline

5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Headspace

12 to 25 year olds. All issues. Phone counselling and online chat available 9am to 1am AEST, every day.

Support services
Targeted advice for young people
Online gaming
Are you spending too much time gaming? Or is someone harassing you while you are online gaming?
Balancing your time online
Here are some tips so you can get a better balance in your online and offline time.
Disturbing content
Seen something violent online or something that might be illegal?
Unwanted contact
How to deal with unwanted contact online from strangers or people you know.

Last updated: 13/05/2024