Parental Tips

Game Over: When Online Video Gaming “Friendships” Lead To Exploitation

While the majority of victims of child exploitation are victimized by people they know and trust, stranger danger in the online gaming world is a serious concern. These virtual relationships can lead to real life exploitation.

The voice communication creates familiarity quickly which makes children feel safer and more comfortable with these predators. They feel like they know, like and trust these people who they really don’t know at all. That can make them open to doing things they wouldn’t normally do because an adult they trust asked. They might even think the predator is another child.

Kids in these types of relationships will often receive gifts from their would-be abusers and be exposed to grooming behaviors. Grooming behaviors are patterns of behavior and interactions designed to build the trust of a victim so they can be exploited. You can read more about how predators train each other to groom children for abuse on our blog.

Ultimately, this familiarity can lead to sexploitation, leaving children in a compromising position. This power imbalance can become even more problematic as demands escalate. Because it’s someone they trusted, kids can feel shame, betrayal and not know what to do. They might feel pressure to continue to comply with a predator’s requests.

Here are some warning signs of “Tricky People” online that can help your kids identify when they might be getting into a dangerous situation with an online acquaintance.

  1. Asking for personally identifiable information. Abusers might ask for your child’s name, age, or location. Make sure your kids know not to share that information with people they meet on the internet.
  2. Asking to take the conversation to a different place. An abuser might ask your child to talk to them through an app or some other communication method other than the gaming platform where they first met. Agreeing to such a request is not a good idea.
  3. Sending gifts. Receiving gifts from strangers on the internet is a bad sign, particularly from adults. This is grooming behavior and a way predators gain the trust of their victims and create a sense of obligation.

Online games can be fun but virtual predators can be very problematic. It’s important for kids to be aware of the risks that online gaming relationships can pose so they can keep their online activities safe and enjoyable. If your child is contacted by a predator, we have advice on our blog as to what to do. Otherwise, play safe, have fun, but be on the lookout for tricky people in the online gaming world!

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