If you're one of the millions who caved and let your kid get a Roblox account, you might want to double-check the iPad's safety settings. The free online gaming platform—with 44 million players, it's one of the most popular for kids—is causing quite a bit of alarm for parents.
Last week, a British dad took to Facebook claiming he has received a number of sexually inappropriate messages on the kid-oriented game. His post has been shared more than 5,000 times and hundreds have left comments. After all, no one wants their kids solicited by pervy strangers online.
So what's the problem?
Part of the fun of Roblox, which has more than 22 million games and a spin-off toy line, is that alongside the 3-D worlds players create is a chat function, which is popular with kids. Similar to other social media platforms, the gamers can gab with each other while also going head-to-head in combat or gathering resources or just exploring. And it's the chat function that's presenting potential safety issues for parents.
U.K. father Iain Lee Morrison explains in a Facebook post that has gone viral exactly what happened 15 minutes after saying "hi" to people on the chat. Here are some of the responses he said he received:
"I was invited by other users to:
Follow them to their homes and bedrooms
Lay ontop of them
Imitate sexual movements
Constant sexual references
Asking my age and if I was a boy or a girl
If they could adopt me"
But Morrison may have jumped the gun a bit. Before you pull the plug on Roblox, the gaming platform does have a few systems in place to protect kids—and there’s plenty you can do to make your child's world online more secure.
First off, Roblox has an age verification system—anyone 12 or younger who signs up for Roblox is automatically put on a limited chat system, so they’ll only receive chats from people they’ve accepted as “friends” within the game. If you tell your kids to fudge their age in order to limit information they share on the internet, tell them to make sure the number they enter is on the lower side. This enables an automated “privacy mode.”
If your child is already a Roblox user, and you aren’t sure whether their age limits are set, log into their account on your computer and click on the “gear” icon in the upper righthand corner. This pulls up “my settings.”
Go to “privacy.”
“Who can message me” should be set to “friends” only. You can also visit your child's profile via the “my settings” section and change their date of birth if it’s set too high.
If you’re not sure that’s enough security, you might be right.
A 2012 study showed that 44 percent of teens confessed that they’ve chatted online with at least one person they didn't actually know in real life, and 71 percent have tried to hide certain online behaviors from their parents.
Parents should talk to their kids about ground rules for online “friends.”
Roblox will also let you check up on your kids if you don’t feel like they’re being honest with you. The site stores users’ messages, so you can look back through your kids' chats by signing into their account, clicking on messages (on the lefthand side of the computer screen) and reading through to make sure things are on the up and up.
If creepy folks have been talking to your kids, block those users right from your kids’ account. Inappropriate users can also be reported to the game’s moderation team.
Or you can wade through the comments on Morrison's post, where other parents have offered ideas for protecting kids, including but not limited to: not letting an 8-year-old have unfettered access to an iPad, making kids play through the TV in the living room and, settle down, it's the internet.