Shared from a post written by Nicole Gray of Infinity Investigative Solutions
It’s the number one online entertainment platform for youth under the age of 13, and number two for teens 13-17 so chances are your child and their friends are already on it. Roblox is an online gaming platform where users can create and share games for other users to play.
On March 10, 2020, Burt Helm wrote in Fast Company, “Every month, over 100 million global active users spend more than 1 billion hours on Roblox.”
This was before the COVID-19 pandemic, which popularized the platform even more. However, just because Roblox is filled with children doesn’t make it a playground. The platform is ripe with predators, inappropriate content, and bad habits that seep out beyond the internet.
According to the company website, Roblox has 8 million developers making games to share with their friends and other users on the platform. An interesting aspect of Roblox that makes this platform particularly enticing is that game developers stand to make money, to the tune of $329 million paid to community developers as of 2020. This means that developers have incentives to get people over to their games. To do this, developers have connected YouTube channels that point from YouTube to Roblox and back. Following developers off the platform can lead children to view inappropriate content on YouTube including swearing, hateful language, sexualized content, racial slurs, misogyny, and violent language. This can lead to a whole host of problems both on and off the internet for children and their families. Developers may also sexualize games and characters, and create games with adult content that get around parental filters by intentionally misspelling words to get more users to their games.
Third-party chat apps are integrated into the platform and designed to appear as though they are part of the game. These chat apps and Roblox chat rooms are where predators lurk. Sometimes these predators are adults posing as children; sometimes they are older teens. Victims are sometimes invited to play games that have age-inappropriate content. Avatars can be programmed to dress inappropriately or even perform sex acts. Victims are sometimes groomed to send explicit photos or videos of themselves or engage in sexualized communication.
One parent who wished to remain anonymous noticed her 10-year-old daughter seemed distraught. She seemed abnormally withdrawn and anxious for about a week before she noticed that her daughter seemed to be hiding her screen when she was on Roblox. When she demanded to see what her daughter was doing, she saw that another Roblox user claiming to be a 14-year-old boy was sending her daughter sexual messages and asking for nude pictures. Her daughter had been uncomfortable but was afraid to tell her mother because she didn’t want to get in trouble. Her mother confronted the predator directly online, then contacted his mother on Facebook to coordinate a response. Luckily, the predator did turn out to be who he said he was. This is not always the case.
A tactic that predators use to groom their young victims is to convince them that they will get in trouble for telling anyone about their abuse. Parents need to keep the lines of communication open with children participating in online gaming platforms. It needs to be clear that if someone or something is making them uncomfortable online, they will NEVER get in trouble for telling an adult. Teach your child how to report content and block users when necessary.
Roblox does have parental controls including an Avatar Clothing Detection feature that ensures all players are appropriately dressed, and Chat Filters that block inappropriate content from chat features, including personal identifying information like names, phone numbers, addresses, school information, and so forth. However, words can still be purposely misspelled to circumvent filters. Roblox includes Customizable Parental Controls where parents can restrict game access and chat access. Parents should check out the games to make sure the content matches the description as some developers play fast and loose with explicit content warnings to garner more game play. The more you know the terrain of the game, the better you can help your child navigate it safely.
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