SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re a parent of a teenager there’s a good chance you’ve bought them a gaming console. After all, gaming — as long as it’s not all they do —can be a fun escape for kids.
But predators also see it as an opportunity to connect to children in ways a parent may not realize.
“They know the kids are playing Minecraft, so they’ll go to Minecraft,” said Josie Angerhofer, regional director of Utah Netsmartz. Angerhofer teaches schoolchildren the dangers that lurk online and how to stay safe.
Predators target other popular games too, like Clash of Clans, Call of Duty, and World of Warcraft. In fact, if a game has a feature that allows players to chat with each other – it’s attractive to a predator.
“They’ll get on a server, they’ll start playing, they’ll trick the kids into thinking they’re the same age,” warns Angerhofer.
Once a predator finds a child, the grooming begins. They’ll pretend they like the same things — such as music, sports or hobbies.
They’ll listen to a child, try to pull them away from a parent, and make the child feel that they’re really understood by them.
Once a child has let down their guard, a predator will ask for small things and then the demands will get bigger.
“They’ll try to get them to send inappropriate pictures. And if a child does send an inappropriate picture then they’ll start blackmailing them,” Angerhofer said.
What can parents do? It may be easier than you think. Set the gaming console’s parental controls so that it restricts a stranger’s access to your kids’ profile Parents can do this on a number of different gaming consoles.
And there’s one more thing Angerhofer recommends – she encourages parents to play the games too.
“Maybe you don’t like it, but they love it and so your child will really appreciate getting involved and that’s the best thing for parents, really, is to understand where they are at.”