While the controversy may rage over how much screen time parents should allow their kids, there is no doubt that tablets can help keep kids engaged while parents need time to do other things. Thanks to an absolute onslaught of free games and other types of online entertainment, parents no longer even have to pay to keep their kids engaged. Some games are even just as educational as they are fun, which is even more of a win for parents. But “free” games can sometimes come with some strings attached. Here are three things parents need to know about “free” online games.

Advertising

While we would like to believe that advertising is harmless, the truth is it isn’t always. In addition, internet advertising is not always bound by the same laws and regulations as TV or radio ads. Some games are very specifically created for kids and therefore may have more safeguards in place as to what kinds of ads your kids may be exposed to. Other games may not. Games made for more mature audiences may allow advertisements for just about anything. These ads could be for something inoffensive, like dish soap or potato chips, or less child-appropriate products and services, like online gambling sites or alcohol. Advertisements aren’t guaranteed to be a negative influence, but it doesn’t hurt to pay attention so you can talk to your child about them if you need to.

Not Everything Is Free

Most free-to-play games offer some type of premium items or services that are not free. For instance, while there are a number of online versions of the popular board game Scrabble, many will offer helpful hints for a price. If you play these games online, you will have to enter credit card information to buy premium items or services. If you download them from the iTunes or Google Play stores, the game payment software is often automatically connected to your iTunes or Google Play accounts. This means your kids can often buy these items without your approval unless you have parental controls in place.

Potential for Addiction

Many people have joked about being “addicted” to online games such as Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds. While games can certainly be addicting in their own way, the truth is they also pose a legitimate threat of being genuinely addicting. Like all potentially addictive substances, not everyone is in legitimate danger of addiction, but that doesn’t mean the threat isn’t real. Not all children. Youth or young adults who try alcohol or even drink alcohol will become alcoholics, but it’s possible. The study of addiction is still a young science, but it is important for parents to be aware that there is, in fact, a genuine possibility that their children can quite literally become addicted to online gaming.

Online games have dominated the video game market in recent years and have proven to be lucrative for developers even if the product is offered for free. While you shouldn’t assume that every game is made with exploitation in mind, it’s a good idea to know more about any game that your child may spend their time playing.

By Erica Buteau

Change Agent. Daydream Believer. Maker. Creative. Likes love, peace and Jeeping. Dislikes winter, paper cuts and war. She/Her/Hers.

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