More than a few kids will be looking forward to finding a new video game console wrapped up as a birthday or Christmas present this year. Gaming is a hugely popular activity, and it’s important to understand the risks and benefits of playing games online.

While the new Xbox consoles are a tonne of fun and a great way to keep entertained over the holidays, most gaming these days happens online – and this means it’s important to know what your kids are up to and how to help keep them safe. With the Xbox family settings app, for example you can manage kids time, friend requests, who they are talking to, purchases and so on. But there’s a lot to learn, so read onwards.

If you haven’t spent much time with a controller in your hands recently, you might be surprised to find out how diverse and interactive the world of gaming is these days. It’s natural to worry about how much time your kids spend in the world of online gaming (the pain of getting them to the dinner table is real), but when we roll up our sleeves and get involved, online games can be a way for the whole family to play and work together.

You may have listened to your kids talk at length about Games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ,which transports players to the Viking age with axes and longboats, but you can also take your family on a journey around the world in Microsoft Flight Simulator, or have some mad-cap culinary fun as a team in Overcooked. Gaming really can be a family activity, and getting involved is one of the best ways to help keep your kids safe online

The latest gaming data shows that over 80% of Australian teenagers have played video games online before, and of those who do, almost all of them think they’ll play even more going forward. A big reason for this is new advancements in technology, such as virtual reality, a new generation of consoles and being able to access games instantly without downloading over the internet.

Nearly half of those teenagers surveyed also see the future of gaming as multiplayer, social, and co-operative – all things that are innately positive, but mean that when they’re online, they’ll be interacting with other people – which may carry some risk.

All the new games and advancements in technology can be a bit overwhelming to keep up with, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the wide world of gaming out there. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to give yourself peace of mind while your kids are playing online – and help keep them safe.

Here are four basic tips to follow to help keep your kids safer online. If you want to know more, visit the eSafety Commissioner’s online gaming page or read their research on how kids game online.

You might notice that the common advice is to keep clear lines of communication open between you and your kids. It’s crucial that you talk about these things openly and regularly – if you can empower your kids to make wise decisions for themselves, you’ll be setting them up for success whether they’re gaming or doing anything else online.

Know what your kids are playing

The best thing you can do to keep on top of things is understand the type of games your kids are playing.

This means keeping gaming consoles in the living room where you can keep an eye out, and paying attention to the parental rating of each game to make sure it’s not too violent and that it doesn’t contain themes, language or images that your kids aren’t ready for.

Online reviews are a great way to get a quick read on whether a game is appropriate. Common-sense media is a great source of entertainment and technology recommendations for families and schools, and has a ‘what parents need to know’ section to their reviews that takes out the guess work.

Help keep their identity safe

While kids mostly want to play online with their friends, the next best thing – and a central part of some online games – is to play with strangers around the world.

Here’s the reality: when you’re playing an online game, you can’t be completely sure who you are playing with. Because of that, it’s important to set parental controls for younger gamers, and make sure older kids play with things like screen names instead of their real names, and not to share information such as their city, age or even gender.

It’s easiest to educate them about this early – you can even help them choose a screen name! Using a screen name can help keep them safe without impacting their gaming experience.

Take an interest

My daughter could talk for hours about the games and tv shows she’s passionate about. Taking an interest isn’t just a great way to bond with your kids, it’s a great way to help keep them safe.

More than just knowing what your kids are playing, if you know who they spend most of their time playing with, how they play and act online and how others interact with them, it can help put you on the front foot in making sure nothing bad happens.

One of the best ways to do this is simply to sit down every now and then and play a few games with them – you’ll get a better picture of what they’re actually doing, plus they’ll feel more comfortable talking about issues if they pop up.

Teach them basic computer safety

No matter where your child or teenager is gaming – whether it’s on a smartphone, game console or a PC – let your kids know that the same risks are there that would apply if they were browsing any other part of the internet.

This means things like not clicking on random links sent by strangers, not downloading files, or ever sharing passwords, login details or personal information over gaming chats. As digital natives, kids take this sort of information in their stride, and agreeing on your gaming rules and expectations together up front can help to build trust, avoid angst, and minimise unsafe behaviour down the track.

It might seem a bit daunting letting your kids play a game online – it’s a far cry from the multi-player Mario Cart we grew up with – but taking the time to engage with the games your kids are playing, and basic computer safety tips and tools will help you to keep your kids as safe as possible, while still letting them have a great time playing the latest games online this summer.