Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Xbox Parental Controls: Your NUMBER 1 PRIORITY!

A news story broke this week about 4 teens who ran away together after meeting through Xbox LIVE. One of the mothers was quoted as saying:

"I don't let him have a Facebook account because I don't want him meeting people online," she said. "I didn't realize they could do so much on Xbox."

Parents, your children not only have the ability to meet through Xbox LIVE but their first contact is often through voice...not a post or message...they speak to each other. Xbox is designed to give you a nearly unlimited amount of people to game with and it's wonderful for those who want the challenge of competition and for those with family or friends who live a distance away. However, if you have children online you need to monitor who they are playing with or at very least have the Xbox in a room where you can hear them play.

First and foremost, KNOW YOUR CHILD'S LOG IN AND PASSWORD! For gamer's under the age of 18 an adult has to create their account. If your child did this themselves then they lied about their age of birth. Some parents allow this and that is your business. Either way, if you want to know who your kids are gaming with and what content they are watching you need to set up parental pass codes and set their accounts accordingly.

How much control can you have? You can set a pass code that has to be entered just to use the Xbox. Your child will turn it on and the first thing they see is ENTER PASS CODE. So essentially, you can control it all! That can be pretty inconvenient though so there are parental controls for individual things:

*Which Games can be played
*Which movies and TV shows can be watched
*How long each family member can use the console on a daily or weekly basis

As far as privacy goes you can control those settings as well. You can:

*Block or allow access to Internet Explorer on Xbox (yes, the internet is on Xbox!)
*Determine who can see your child's profile.
*determine to allow video chat through the Kinect sensor or XBox LIVE camera. (personally I always have this one set to NO WAY! If we have family that wishes to chat or play I can change the setting to do so then restrict it again afterward)
*determine if approval is required to accept or send friend requests

This last one, determine if approval is required to accept or send friend requests, is the one that I personally find the most important. My 17 yr old can now do this himself but my 12 year old cannot sent or accept a friend request unless I enter an email and password that I previously set. She is only allowed family and friends that we know personally so I never have to worry about her privacy on XBox.

The XBox BASICS tab at the top of the page has the steps for all of the settings listed above. Or HERE is the link to XBox support with the same instructions, but with fancier verbology. ;) With all this taken care of I have a few suggestions of my own...

*When you get a console make it the FAMILY console, not your child's. This just helps avoid a multitude of arguments. 

*Don't just pay for your child to have an online account, get a family plan so you have an account as well. You can give a Microsoft points allowance to your kids (points are used to purchase content such as games, movies and upgrades) and you can control their settings right there through the console. You may not want to play video games but you can watch Netflix, Hulu and rent or buy movies & music through Zune. Having your own account helps you to understand what your kids are doing on theirs. For a good deal on a family gold search "xbox LIVE family gold"'ll always find a bargain out there.

*Keep the console in the family room or bonus room, a room where everyone is allowed to be. (Perhaps when they are old enough they can have their own console depending on how you feel your child can handle the responsibility.) 

*Learn to use the XBox yourself. Find a game you feel you can play and get on Xbox LIVE ! This is the best way to know what your kids are experiencing. There are a lot of game demos through XBox Arcade that you can download to begin with. (go to the Games screen on the XBox Dashboard and browse)

*Learn the communication system...that headset used to speak through. It can be set to MUTE so that your kids can only hear their friends (team mates) when playing online. Then they can take their team into matchmaking, play with people from all over the globe, but never speak to them or hear them speak. There are settings in their games to mute players other than your team, and when in a game you can choose people individually to mute. Your child can mute their mic as well.* 

This may all seem a huge bother but it really is simple to do and's parenting! I was lucky...I was introduced to XBox LIVE because my son didn't mind me sitting and watching him play. Every night after the little kids were in bed I sat and watched Grant play Halo 2. He had a great group of friends who were not only good at the game but hilarious to listen too. Eventually they challenged me to learn the game and I met and gamed with the greatest moms ever. They are still my dearest friends. 

The bottom line...? Keep your console where you can watch your kids playing and know who they are playing with. You wouldn't send them to a park by themselves, so don't send them out into the world all alone either. XBox isn't an evil entity to be feared, its an entertainment system that YOU control. The best way to take that control? Be involved! Play! And use those settings! 

As always, if you have questions email me. 

*If you would like to meet on Xbox LIVE so you can become familiar with it you can log onto your child's account (while they are at school, if you don't want to hear whining) and I can meet you online  to help. email me and we can schedule a time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

AbleGamers: Awesome Cause...and hangin' with the Mommy Gamers

Today's post is a congrats and a link!

Congratulations to the AbleGamers Foundation for opening the first Accessible Arcade at the DC Library. Gamers of all abilities can come and enjoy video games of all kinds, all consoles and PC. Mark Barlet began the AGF to help facilitate gaming for all people...including gamer's who need adapted controllers and gaming for the blind. A truly inspiring group! Read more about the arcade at their Facebook page and "Like" them while you're at it.

The Mommy Gamer's invited me to guest host their most recent podcast so you are invited to eavesdrop! It was a pleasure to spend an evening with Desirai and Marcia, talking about girly things, kids and gaming. Thanks for having me!

My latest blog post is also at Mommy Gamers, in honor of Anti-Bullying month, read all about what our kids can face on Xbox LIVE and how many grown-up gamer's need to reign it in! Next post will be about how to protect your kids from this problem. (now copied below as well)

Thanks parents!

Of Dragons and Flames...
Once upon a time an amazing gaming service called Xbox LIVE came into the world. At its beginning it was the greatest thing that happened to gaming because you could play with anyone…anywhere! It was and is gaming heaven, a never ending stream of competitors for you to try to beat. But as happens to all good things, an evil began to creep in. Abusive gamers, hereafter known as Dragons, had figured out that they could say anything they wanted, no matter how vile, because they could retain their anonymity. I’m sure these Dragons are thinking they aren’t really hurting anyone, they are just venting their rage, spewing flames wherever they go. As adults we know we can boot these gamers from the game, mute them or simply quit and play with our friends. We generally let their flames roll off our backs.
The Dragons, however, forgot about something. Something they ARE burning badly…the kids. Yes, we know they aren’t supposed to be on LIVE but they are and they always will be. Most Dragons are too old to remember shock value; they forget that bullying hurts even when it’s anonymous and these kids don’t forget easily. So what do the little ones do to cope? They do like they always do…imitate. Children learn by example and the example of these Dragons is loud and clear: Spewing flames is cool.
I am fully aware that Dragons are one of the most annoying things about live gaming and that Dragon babies are even worse, but my post today is intended to ask you a favor, and it’s a big one: Please don’t abuse these little dragons back, because I really don’t feel it’s their fault. Not completely…
I realized this one day while on LIVE. There was a particularly annoying little Dragon in my game, spewing flames everywhere. I did my best to ignore it until he singled me out and explained some sexual things he was going to do to me. I should have been offended but he had gotten the terms all wrong…he had no idea what he was talking about! That’s when I realized what was going on. He was simply doing what he’d heard from a big Dragon…and he thought it was cool if he said it too.
When it comes to big Dragons I have no problem turning them over to the enforcement team. But ever since that day, when it comes to baby Dragons, I take the time to talk to them first. I messaged this young would-be pervert and explained that I KNEW this wasn’t him. I knew he had heard these things from older gamers and that if he wanted to really have fun gaming and to build a great friends list…one that even includes girls…that he needed to stop imitating those big flaming Dragons. I explained that it doesn’t make him look cool at all, because the grown-ups who say those things aren’t seen as being cool either.
To my surprise his reply was pleasant. He wasn’t happy being mean but he thought he had to be. How sad is that!? He thought that was how we are supposed to behave on LIVE. I realized that It’s on us…the grown-ups…we are to blame, we created these little flaming Dragons. If we don’t want to deal with the flames, from any age Dragon, we need to not be spewing them ourselves. I did tell the little Dragon that he shouldn’t be playing M rated games online but if he insisted on it he should mute himself and just play. From that day forward I have done the same with many a little Dragon, and hopefully have made the gaming realm a better place in some small way or at least kept some little Dragons from growing into big ones.
The moral of the story is clear and obvious. It’s an old tale told in many ways: “Let peace begin with me”, “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”, “remember the golden rule”, “be excellent to each other”…it’s all true. Kids learn by example and like it or not they ARE on Xbox LIVE and not going anywhere. I know that there is a lot of anger and frustration involved with playing video games so if you feel you can’t handle yourself, MUTE! Because ultimately we’re on LIVE to slay Dragons, not be one.