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Illustration for article titled Eavesdrop on Your Kids While Theyre Gaming

Photo: Zivica Kerkez (Shutterstock)

Our kids’ online lives can feel like a bit of a mystery. Particularly if they are into gaming, they might sit—headphones on and behind closed doors—for hours at a time, leaving you wondering who they’re interacting with and what those conversations are like. If that’s the case, one popular gamer has advice for parents: You should be listening in.

David Marchese recently talked with Tyler Blevins—more widely known as “Ninja,” a popular video game streamer among teenagers and young adults—for the New York Times. Blevins says he frequently encounters kids who say racist things or who are aggressive and threatening to women while he’s streaming.

It’d be great, Blevins says, if you could somehow track down those kids’ parents to let them know what kind of hurtful or inappropriate language their tweens or teens are using online—but that’s not possible, which means parents need to be vigilant about what their own kid is saying. As Blevins says:

It all comes down to parenting. You want to know who your kid is? Listen to him when he’s playing video games when he thinks you’re not. Here’s another thing: How does a white kid know he has white privilege if his parents never teach him or don’t talk about racism? If they’re gaming and their first interaction with racism is one of their friends saying the N-word and they have no idea what it is—what if it was on my stream? Is it my job to have this conversation with this kid? No, because the first thing that’s going on in my head is, This kid is doing this on purpose to troll me.

This is the inherent problem with the “just let kids be kids” and “talking about racism and sexism only further divides us” arguments. If we, as parents, don’t talk about these issues with our kids, society (particularly, their peers) will be waiting to do it for us. They may learn—and use—words they’ve never heard before in offensive ways without even realizing the degree to which they are offensive, and they might not think to ask what a word or phrase means before they start adopting it into their own vernacular, hurting or offending others along the way. Not to mention they may be saying things that could lead to them being reported.

I’m not typically one to advocate for snooping into a child’s privacy (unless there’s a compelling safety reason to do so), but Blevins’ suggestion to keep an ear on your kid’s gaming talk is a good one. I’m not advising you pull up a chair and stick an ear to their bedroom door for an hour, but a brief listen now and then as you walk by might give you some insight into how they are communicating with gaming friends online and whether there are some conversations you need to have.

At the very least, it’s a good idea to check in with them now and then to ask about the gaming friends they’ve met online and what playing with those friends has been like. As long as you’re engaged and interested, your chances are better that they’ll open up to you about these interactions, which can help pave the way for productive conversations.



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