How To Ensure Your Kids Are Gaming Safely

By Daniel Sherwin, Great Falls MT

Video games get a bad rap, but they actually offer a ton of benefits for kids when used appropriately. They promote hand-eye coordination, help kids enhance problem-solving skills, and let them build their imagination and explore new worlds.

However, there are some safety risks you should keep in mind while your child plays, especially online. Here are some guidelines for making sure your little one stays safe while they game.

Physical Safety

You should make sure your children aren’t gaming for hours and hours at a time. For starters, this behavior effectively precludes exercise. Kids need about an hour of physical activity a day to stay healthy, and they’re not going to get that if they spend all day gaming. In addition, there’s the fact that most people don’t have an especially ergonomic game set up. Whether they’re playing on a console or computer, doing small repetitive movements while hunched over for hours on end is no good for the muscular and skeletal systems.

Encourage them to take breaks and get outside, and invest in tools to keep them healthier while they play.

For example, an elevated gaming monitor can help maintain good posture while they play. A comfortable, supportive, and interactive gaming chair can also reduce injuries from bad gaming posture. Find online discounts to keep costs low while upgrading, and remember these are no substitute for healthy limits and exercise.

Digital Safety

If your kids are playing online, it’s important that they know all about digital security. Teach them to never give out personal information, even to people they’ve gotten to know online. Let them know it’s okay for them to make friends online, but they should keep you in the loop and never make plans to meet in person without your explicit knowledge and consent.

There are steps you need to take to keep your digital security strong while your kids game online, too. For example, if you upgrade your wifi to a stronger connection to keep up with a multiplayer game like Fortnite, take that opportunity to make sure you use a strong, random password for your network. If your password is too simple, it can be easy to guess it — meaning anyone who goes by your house could potentially hop onto your network and access your devices.

Emotional Safety

Finally, be wary of games with online voice chat, and only let your child use these if you’re totally confident about who’s on the other end, or if you trust your child to handle whatever they might hear.

Remember, it’s perfectly conceivable your child might be in a voice chat with much older children and even adults.

Even if you set aside concerns about predatory behavior, there’s still the simple question of the kind of themes and language your child might hear on these chats. If you wouldn’t let them join random conversations at a restaurant, you shouldn’t let them go on voice chat unsupervised.

The simplest move is to turn voice chat off through parental controls. In the rare case that it’s absolutely vital for gameplay, have voice chat broadcast through speakers rather than headphones. This way you can intervene if your child is exposed to something above their age level.

Your kids can have a fun and safe gaming experience online, but you should take steps to protect them. Anything done in excess or without forethought can be risky for kids. Set limits, establish rules, and, above all, monitor usage until you’re confident your child can manage on their own.

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Photo Credit: Pexels

Too Many Casinos

Many people say the City must do something about too many casinos in this town.

The first thing I ask an anti-casino person who drinks alcohol is this: have you ever protested a new bar?


Oh, so it’s the other guy’s vice you aren’t comfortable with. Because I can make an argument that alcohol causes and has caused at least as many problems as the anti-casino folks say gambling causes, but so many people are fine with alcohol, as opposed to gambling, because they like to drink.

If you listen to people in this town, or read comments at the Tribune website or on Facebook, you would think that Great Falls, alone in Montana, is simply overrun with gambling. The facts do not bear that out.

Look at the Montana Gambling Control Division’s 2015-2016 Biannual Report, and you will find statistics for what are apparently the 19 largest cities in Montana. Turn to the appendix, and you can see how much gambling there is available in Great Falls compared to the rest of the state.

The average of the 19 largest communities shows that there are 23.99 gaming machines per 1000 residents. In Great Falls, the number is 23.978 gaming machines per 1000 residents. In other words, we are slightly less than average. Billings, the largest city in the state has 23.53 machines per 1000 residents, slightly lower than us. Helena is at 22.37 per 1000, while Kalispell is 29.16 and Whitefish is 25.59.

Bozeman and Missoula both have fewer machines per 1000 residents than we do, a fact that might be explained by the additional fact that a significant portion of their population is made up of young college students who lack the money to gamble. (Of course, if you import 13,000 to 16,000 college age kids into Great Falls every year, we probably wouldn’t be having an economic development discussion either.) Or, maybe those towns are growing past their license quota, and Great Falls never did?

The point, though, is not that Great Falls has too many machines or too few, but merely that arguments you read suggesting that we are some kind of outlier gambling mecca are simply false.

Those same arguments also often point to 10th Avenue South, “Holy cow, you drive down tenth and it’s just casino after casino.” Again, this is not fair argument; put another way, this is by design. You might recall back in the early Oughts that the City spent $80,000.00 on a new zoning code. Well, this code so restricted the available locations for licenses, 10th Avenue South became one of the few places in town where one could even open a bar or casino. So, don’t be surprised that the casinos cluster on 10th. Instead, blame your then-City Commission.

One more point: If the City Commission limits zoning due to the possibility of casinos, and if that’s because the Commissioners just don’t like gambling, the City Commission is not doing its job. You see, gambling is legal. The mere fact that someone is engaging in a legal activity that you do not prefer should not even be considered in this discussion. What if your occupation is next? I would suggest that the majority of casinos are operated by local people, including me and my partners. I was born and raised here, and invested with family members in an industry that our family has been involved in for several generations.

The City has limited the locations of casinos. The City has limited the signage of casinos. The City cannot simply overrule state law.

If you don’t like gaming, your issue is with the legislature, not the City Commission. Otherwise, I think you should stop demonizing your fellow citizens who have invested their money in a legal industry.