Gaming consoles such as Sony PSP, PS2, Nintendo DS & Gamecube and Microsoft Xbox appear innocent enough, yet they should all carry a health warning.

Modern gaming consoles are sophisticated items that allow your children to connect to the Internet and chat to others and therefore have risks attached.
  1. Your child can play inappropriate games. Every game has a game rating. Games range from those that can be played by everyone to those that have a decidedly adult content, showing references to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, rape, violent sexual acts, mutilation of body parts, intense violence, nudity, and profanity. If you don’t want your 10 year old see disturbing material, educate yourself and become familiar with game ratings and privacy statements, and review each online gaming site's terms of acceptable use.

  2. Some consoles are wireless enabled, so your child can connect to your computer network, or to their computer by a lead and download inappropriate material onto their console. If you have a wireless network that is not password protected or you do not have content blocking, your children will be able to surf the web and view inappropriate sites without you even knowing. To prevent your pre-teen youngsters from accessing these sites, you should download a content blocker like Net Nanny, which will block these sites on their computer.

  3. Your child could play online games with others who are not who they appear to be. Your child could be contacted by a complete stranger pretending to be someone they aren't. There have been many reported cases of young children being groomed for sex by older predators pretending to be young teens. Make sure you monitor game chats and messages. Check who your children play with. Place the computer or game console in a place where it can be easily monitored if needed.

  4. Your child could be subjected to inappropriate language. Encourage your child to tell you. You may be able to select the offending player's name from the players list to mute or block their messages, or you can report them to game administrators using e-mail, chat, or feedback. Check the game site in question for more information.

  5. Your child could inadvertently give out information. Advise your kids to never give out any personal information such as their name, age, gender, or home address, pictures of themselves, or agree to meet someone in person, when using online chats. Make sure they know to tell you immediately if someone asks them for this information. Have your child use suitable screen or character names (gamertags) that do not reveal any personal information or potentially invite harassment.

  6. Your child could voice chat with other players. Some game systems allow voice chatting with other players through the use of a headset. This is not recommended for younger children. See your computer or game console manual for more information about this feature. Voice masking or cloaking technology, now available on most game consoles can disguise a child's real voice. Adults can mask their voices too, and not everyone is necessarily who they say they are.

  7. Your child could be bullied by other gamers. Tell your kids that if they feel uncomfortable with anything that's going on in a game, they should stop playing and tell you about it immediately, so you can record and report the issue if necessary.

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Set rules before your child goes online, and be comfortable that he or she understands them. Typical rules include limiting play time, playing with off-line world friends only, and never chatting with strangers or giving out any personal information, including the child's real name or where they live.

You should also draw up a Web Code of Conduct for your kids and get them to sign it. A good example can be found at Also see the Xbox Live code of conduct page as an example.

Participate with your kids to play online games. It's a good way to help them learn how to deal with others online while still having fun.