Australian parents have been urged to supervise and set rules around game play for children amid increasing online risks.
Australian parents have been urged to supervise and set rules around game play for children amid increasing online risks.

‘Sex rooms’ target kids playing video games

PARENTS are being urged to crack down on children's video game use over the school holidays as a new survey reveals most Aussie kids are playing online for up to four hours a day, and more than one in 10 are doing so without supervision.

The survey's findings emerged as experts warned of new threats to young gamers, including "sex rooms" discovered in an app popular with primary school children, and malware posing as Fortnite extras.

Both examples, the experts warn, prove parents need to create "digital contracts" with their children during the school break, and pay closer attention to content warnings.

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Experts have warned of worrying new threats to children playing video games.
Experts have warned of worrying new threats to children playing video games.

The study of 5000 parents with children aged from six to 16 years old, conducted for internet safety firm McAfee, found more than seven in 10 children were allowed to play video games for between one and four hours per day despite concerns by most parents that their children could be "groomed" by predators in online games.

The research also found 13 per cent of parents "never" monitored their children's internet activities, and five per cent had no idea whether their children were talking to strangers online.

Alex Merton-McCann, with sons Will and Charlie, says parents need to  monitor and discuss their children’s online activities.  Picture: Jonathan Ng
Alex Merton-McCann, with sons Will and Charlie, says parents need to monitor and discuss their children’s online activities. Picture: Jonathan Ng

McAfee Australia's "cybermum," Alex Merton-McCann, said the findings were shocking, and even time-poor parents should make monitoring and discussing their children's online activities a priority.

"You've got some kids playing games up to four hours a day, which is quite extraordinary," she said. "That itself should provide us with a jolt - it's too much!"

Ms McCann said the study also showed almost one in three parents either didn't know about or didn't adhere to age recommendations given to video games, and one in 10 did not discuss their safety concerns with their children - something she said needed to change.

"We talk so much about sun safety and, if you've got a teenager, road safety," she said. "This needs to be on the same level, if not a higher priority for families."

The findings came as dangerous new threats emerged in online games aimed at children, including virtual "sex rooms" discovered in Roblox, an app popular with young players.

A seven-year-old girl accidentally wandered into the virtual room filled with naked avatars, to the horror of her mother.

Cyber safety educator Leonie Smith said the case demonstrated why parents needed to monitor their children closely, and to conduct research before allowing children to download or buy games.

"As far as parents go, the biggest problem is that they're too trusting," Ms Smith said.

"They use that idea of safety in numbers - they speak to other parents and if they say, 'my kid plays that and we don't have a problem with it,' the perception is that it's reasonably safe. It's not their fault, it's just that they don't know that they have to look into it a bit deeper."

Roblox, which has an age recommendation of over 12 years, was not safe for young children even with parental controls turned on, Ms Smith said.

Children have also been targeted with malicious software designed to exploit the popularity of the game Fortnite. The programs, which masquerade as a way to unlock free "V-Bucks" virtual currency, instead left computers open to data theft.

Ms Merton-McCann said parents should use their children's free time during the school holidays to discuss safety messages, and even create a "digital contract" to set out guidelines everyone could follow.

"This means sitting down when everyone is calm and blood pressure is under control," she said, "and writing down some mutually agreed-upon limits for how you want your kids to be online, and that should absolutely include the amount of time they spent online."



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