For many children, playgrounds are being replaced with the online worlds of Call of Duty or Minecraft. Children are spending their free time immersed in these worlds, playing with friends and making new ones. While the benefits of games like Minecraft are becoming apparent to educators and parents, these digital playgrounds are not without their risks. Online games create a sense of anonymity and players say and do things they simply wouldn’t in other environments. Cyberbullying is a serious concern within online games and children with autism can be easy targets.
After reading our post about the benefits of Minecraft for children with autism, a mother approached me about an issue her son was experiencing while playing the popular online game Team Fortress 2. In an effort to shield her son from the violence portrayed in this game, she had purchased a pair of goggles that her son could wear that would turn the bullets and explosions shown in the game into bubbles and confetti. Unfortunately, when the other players saw her son wearing these goggles, they made fun of him. Eventually her son got so frustrated he quit.
It is a shame when a child is bullied under any circumstances; however, this particular scenario offers a unique learning opportunity. Oftentimes, traditional bullying occurs when parents and teachers are not around to witness the event. In the case of cyberbullying within online games, it is possible for a parent or teacher to sit with the child and even record play sessions to help the child work through these situations.
While some children may not mind a parent or teacher watching over them while they are playing their favorite online game, other children may be reluctant or act more reserved under such supervision. If this is the case for your child, consider using a program like Online Broadcasting Software (OBS) to record the child’s play sessions. This program can record video and audio of gameplay on a computer with minimal setup. It can also record gameplay on an Xbox but the setup is quite a bit more involved. Recording these interactions provides a unique view at unfiltered dialogue between children and offers a chance to help a child navigate through difficult situations that we wouldn’t otherwise witness.
Here are some important points to focus on when reviewing play sessions with a child:
General Online Security
This is not an issue specific to cyberbullying; however, it is important that children are not disclosing any confidential or personally identifiable information to strangers online. It is important to have a set of rules about what the child is and isn’t allowed to talk about online.
Children with autism have difficulty understanding social cues and concepts like sarcasm. It is possible for a child to misinterpret joking as bullying, and vice versa. Take a look at whether the players are targeting the child specifically or if they interacting with everyone the same. Observe whether the players are destroying structures for fun or singling out the child’s structures. Even if you do not find the interactions to be bullying, having the opportunity to explain social situations and cues to the child is extremely valuable.
Dealing with Bullying
Once the child can identify bullying, the next step is to figure out a course of action. Another unique advantage of working on bullying in online communities is trial and error. Brainstorm possible solutions with the child that he or she can try out. This helps the child work on problem solving skills and makes the child a part of the solution. Having your child try different strategies to deal with bullying in the real world can be risky and have devastating results; however online, there are always new servers and games where the child can try different tactics to deal with these issues.
In Part II of this post, I will be delving into real incidences of cyberbullying and helping children through these occurrences.