by Larry Magid

This post first appeared in the Mercury News

Listen to “Keeping Kids Safe on Roblox” on Spreaker.

If you have children in your life, there is a very good chance they play games on Roblox — a popular gaming platform that allows people to play games that others create or create games for others to play. Think of it as YouTube for video games  —  most people are there to play, but some use the Roblox platform to create and promote their own

games, and — if their game is popular — they can be financially rewarded for their work. Roblox said it has more than 150 million monthly active users and that about 75 percent of U.S kids been 9 and 12 are using the service.

Roblox is free but there are ways to spend money in the game through what are called “Robux,” which cost real money and can be used to purchase games, avatars, clothing and other items that can enhance game playing. Game developers can accept Robux and turn them in for real money. Roblox also offers a Premium feature, starting at $4.99 a month that includes a monthly allotment of Robux along with other perks.

Roblox games can be played on all modern smartphones, tablets, computers and Xbox One, along with the Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive virtual reality headsets

Unlike most social media platforms, kids don’t have to be 13 or older to use Roblox, and it’s very popular among preteens. Like social media platforms, there is the possibility for players to interact via chat, which is why Roblox limits and filters chat for players under 13 and allows parents to turn off that feature entirely. And, while most Roblox games are suitable for all ages, some have content that could be scary or otherwise inappropriate for young children. And, as you might imagine from a platform that allows users to interact with others or create their own games, there is the risk that some developers and users will try to game the system with content that’s not appropriate or that some will use the chat feature in inappropriate ways.

Roblox does have human moderators and software tools to block inappropriate content, including improperly clothed avatars, sexual content of any kind, potential bullying, and even disclosure of private information like phone numbers and addresses, but no system is perfect and there is always the risk that something might slip through. Roblox has tightened up its security and safety rules for developers, but there may still be some older games that don’t meet current standards.

Start with a conversation

I’ll get into some technical ways parents can control their child’s privacy and access to content, but — as with all parental controls — the most important filter remains the one between the child’s ears and not the one that runs on a device. Start by having a conversation with your child about how they are protecting their privacy and security as well as making sure they are treating others kindly and avoiding people who are mean to them. The chat feature can enhance gameplay, especially when it comes to strategizing with teammates, but children should be warned to avoid any conversations that make them uncomfortable and know how to block and report anyone who says something inappropriate.

Sexual predation is rare on Roblox, but it has happened, so it’s important to speak with your children about online grooming including accepting gifts such as Robux or moving conversations to other platforms that may have fewer restrictions than Roblox. Of course, this goes for interactions between children and adults, but there can also be cases of sexual contact or harassment from peers.

In a blog post, CEO David Baszucki acknowledged “there will always be individuals who deliberately try to break our rules.”  Baszucki said that Roblox has “a team of 1,600 protecting our users and monitoring for safety to detect inappropriate content 24/7” and they “take swift action (typically within minutes) to address any content or any developer that violates our terms of use.”

In addition to helping kids better use Roblox, conversations with kids can apply to all digital content and — for that matter — serve as a basis for critical thinking that can last a lifetime, whether it’s how you act online or how you respond to other temptations and threats and how your child will later make important decisions on dates, in cars, when offered potentially dangerous or unhealthy substances, when shopping and even when voting.

Privacy Settings and parental control

Roblox offers privacy settings that can limit who can contact, message or chat with your child. You can also restrict a child’s ability to be invited into a “private server” among other restrictions. Children can configure their own privacy settings, but you can take control over those settings by turning on what Roblox calls Account Restrictions.

To turn on Account Account Restrictions, you need to have access to the child’s account and know their password. You log into the child’s account (from a PC, phone or other device) and go to Settings and then Security. From there you create a 4-digit account pin, which requires the parent first enter their email address as well as their child’s Roblox password. The parent then gets an email with a link to enable the PIN. Once the PIN has been established, a parent can use it to turn on Account Account Restrictions, which prevents the child from playing anything other than curated games and disables the child’s ability to change their privacy settings until the parent has re-entered their PIN. As with all online services, it’s important to have a strong and unique password, and it’s a good idea to go into Roblox security settings to turn on “2 Step Verification” that will email you a code if someone tries to log in from a new device.