Playmates: how to help your kids game safely online

You’ve probably seen the meme: “I love my puter. All my friends are inside it!”

If that sounds like your child, don’t worry. In the right circumstances, online friendships can be constructive for social development. 

Roughly 82 percent of kids in the UK play online games at least a few times a week,1 and most kids play with friends they either know already or met through games. Research shows these digital friendships are just as important as real-life ones, especially for neurodiverse children. 

With the help of EE partner Internet Matters then, let’s look at safe ways to play this exciting social adventure.

Avoiding online gaming harms


In the internet age, “don’t talk to strangers” is tough advice to follow. How can we keep our kids safe without putting up overly strict guardrails?

Research from Internet Matters shows that when parents stay aware of what their kids are doing online and who they’re talking to, they’re more likely to see positive outcomes for their kids’ mental health. This doesn’t have to be a complex talk. Internet Matters say the same guidelines you set for real-life interactions work for online ones too, including:


  • Never include real names in usernames, and never give out your real name online 
  • Keep other personal information, including age and location, to yourself
  • Avoid meeting up in real life unless you’re in a group with at least one adult

Press enter to chat


Pretty much every online game needs to facilitate player communication. From Fortnite to Minecraft, online games have voice and text functions that let players chat with their teammates—whether they know them or not.

Fortunately, you can find safety features in the audio and social sections of the in-game menus, including the option to filter certain types of language, permanently mute or block players, or just turn chat off completely. It’s a good idea for you and your child to look over these options before playing and discuss how to handle uncomfortable situations.

Then there’s Roblox, where players can chat, play, connect with their favourite creators and even create games themselves. Andy Robertson, tech expert with Internet Matters, says the same safety rules apply here. Check in periodically with your child so you know what they’re playing and who with.

Third-party apps, such as Discord or WhatsApp, help players create their own spaces after the game ends. Since these platforms have looser moderation, make sure to have conversations about safety and how to respond to inappropriate behaviour so your child knows how to protect themselves.

A young girl looking at a laptop

Data defence


Like most digital companies, game companies may collect and store financial information, user demographics, and internet addresses. While their uses are typically standard and benign, hackers don’t have such good intentions.

Internet Matters advise parents to adjust privacy settings to be as safe as possible.


  • Unlink social media accounts from consoles and launchers
  • Generate a secure password and save it in a password manager
  • Use two-factor authentication to protect yourself in case of a breach
  • Don’t save your financial information on a console or launcher 

Safe gaming with pixel pals


Despite the risks, digital friendships have plenty of positives. Research shows that online friendships are just as important for teens as in-person ones—and sometimes even more so.

“Many contacts between adolescents are mediated through technology and can provide additional opportunities for friends to spend time together, share thoughts and display affection than in offline spaces alone,” said Stephanie Reich, professor of education at University of California Irvine.2

Online friendships make it easy for teens to connect with like-minded people and form groups with people they choose. Psychologist Leanne Hall says the anonymity of being online helps people open up in ways they might not in real life, a potentially “life-changing” event that helps them learn more about themselves and their emotions in a safe space.3

A young boy sat on his father's lap, looking at a tablet

Friends for all


Neurodiverse kids may benefit even more from online friendships because they are more straightforward to understand. Digital communication peels back social and nonverbal cues, which is why kids who struggle to fit in at school can find solace in gaming and internet friendships.4

Feeling in control is key to learning new social skills and making satisfying friendships, according to the Journal of Disability Research,5 and that is easiest of all online. If kids want to hang out in a mixed group with neurotypical kids, they can dip in and out as they choose, free from the uncertainties of IRL ones. Or they can find or even create spaces just for neurodivergent kids with no pressure to conform.

Meaningful online friendships are journeys of social and self-discovery, just as those forged in the playground are. They just might need a little supervision and education—at least at first. And if you don’t know the answer? Internet Matters have your back.


2    UCI News.

3    ABC. Every Day.

4    Shotts, Sarah (2023) "The Benefits of Asynchronous Friendship," Ought: The Journal of Autistic Culture: Vol. 4: Iss. 2, Article 7. DOI: 10.9707/2833-1508.1122

5    Brownlow, C., Rosqvist, H.B. and O’Dell, L., 2015. Exploring the potential for social networking among people with autism: challenging dominant ideas of ‘friendship’. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 17(2), p.188-193.DOI:

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