From Fortnite to Minecraft, kids all have their number one go-to video game. For many, it’s Roblox, a free online gaming platform that allows users to play games designed by other players—as well as design their own. The platform has seen a major boost in popularity during the pandemic, boasting 150 million monthly users as of late 2020, according to Business of Apps. (By comparison, Minecraft has 126 million.) But the Roblox boom is giving some parents pause, as they wonder if the multiplayer format and free and open communication policy is safe for their kids.
“While many of the interactions children will have on Roblox are with other children, like many interactive platforms, there are also adults—including child predators—lurking on Roblox,” warns Josh Nelson, campaign director for ParentsTogether, a family-focused nonprofit organization with more than 2.5 million members in the United States.
Here, we dive into what Roblox is, potential risks you should know about, and how you can keep your child safe from the risks experts want all parents to know about.
What Is Roblox?
Advertised as an “imagination platform,” Roblox is a free game-creation platform available on all smartphones, tablets, computers, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive where users can design and upload their own games on a proprietary program called Roblox Studio to play in a global community, explains Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer of parental-control app Bark and author of Parenting in a Tech World.
On their site, Roblox explains this means that players can build the ultimate theme park, compete as a professional race car driver, star in a fashion show, become a superhero, or simply design a dream home and hang out with friends.
“The platform offers thousands of free user-created games,” says Jordan. “It’s extremely popular among all ages, but its easy-to-use functionality, creative tools, and free games make it especially appealing to young gamers.”
Although users can access an infinite number of games without paying a dime, the platform has its own currency referred to as “Robux,” which can be used to purchase additional features, and kids will likely want to subscribe to the Builders Club, which also provides additional features for a membership fee, according to Common Sense Media.
How Old Should Kids Be to Play Roblox?
Common Sense Media rates the platform OK for users 13+ “based on continuing challenges with problematic content, but it’s potentially OK for kids younger than that if account restrictions are turned on and parents pay close attention to their kids’ activities on the platform.”
Roblox‘s Risks Parents Need to Know, According to Experts
Experts warn that the following issues might be of concern to parents:
Any multiplayer platform can lead to troubling interactions.
“Like many other gaming platforms, Roblox has elements of self-policing including moderators and rules, but there are always ways for individuals with the wrong intentions to make their way into the platform and into your child’s chat room,” points out Jordan.
She points to a case out of the UK. in which a mom learned her son was being groomed by a predator on the platform into sending sexually explicit images of himself. And Nelson says ParentsTogether has also heard from several members about deeply troubling contacts their children have experienced on Roblox including a 7-year-old in Massachusetts who was “contacted by someone wanting her to send pics, because they wanted to be her friend.”
Nelson adds that some reports have pointed to a dilemma in which some predators are using Roblox to initiate conversations before moving over to another app that allows images to be shared, such as Snapchat.
“Remember that everything a user experiences on Roblox was created by other users,” says Jordan.
“Condo games” could expose kids to inappropriate content.
Nelson says one of the major risks parents should know about are so-called “condo games”—user-generated games that feature adult content, such as simulated sex acts, graphic images, and inappropriate language. “While Roblox has reportedly taken steps to crack down on these games, they have continued showing up, essentially forcing the company to play whack-a-mole,” he notes.
How Roblox Is Addressing Safety Concerns
In response to concerns, Roblox notes that the platform was designed for kids and teens from the beginning and they’re committed to making safety a priority. “We have a responsibility to make sure our players can learn, create, and play safely,” notes Tami Bhaumik, VP of Digital Civility, Roblox. “This continues to be our most important priority and that will never change.”
She adds that the company has a human review team monitoring for safety in multiple languages and keeping an eye out for chat behavior that clearly indicates an attempt to bring a player off our platform to other, less restrictive third-party chat apps, and for users under 13, filters are even stricter, such as blocking all use of numbers and potentially personal identifiable information. The platform also do not allow the sending of images or video via chat or one-to-one user interactions.
You can also stay on top of what Roblox is doing to evolve their safety system via regular updates and their Parents Guide.
How to Keep Your Child Safe on Roblox
The following moves could protect kids from predators, according to experts.
Familiarize yourself with the parental controls.
Understanding all the parental control options should always be your first step for any new game, platform, app or website your child wants to try, points out Nelson.
At the same time, all of the experts we spoke with recommend sitting down and playing the game with your child to get a better understanding of it and to be better prepared to help them navigate it.
“It is also important for parents to understand that no parental control system is perfect,” he says. “On a platform like Roblox with millions of users and the ability for anyone to create new games, there will always be some level of risk.”
Use parental controls.
Bark recommends that parents disable their child’s chat functionality, especially if they’re not supervising play directly.
For instance, you can enable Account Restrictions to lock your child’s account’s settings so that no other user can send them messages, chat in-app or in-game, or find their account by phone number. None of these settings can be individually adjusted when Account Restrictions are turned on.
To get started, Bark recommends setting parental controls on Roblox by doing the following:
Log in to the account.
Click the gear icon, and then click Settings.
On the right-hand side of the Settings page, click Privacy.
From here, you can adjust both Contact Settings and Other Settings.
If your child is 12 or younger, you can choose Friends or No one. If your child is 13 or older, there are additional options for interaction with other players.
“Parents who want additional control should go to the Security section of the Account Settings page,” says Jordan. “Here, they can set a PIN and other account restrictions.”
Remind kids who are allowed to chat to adhere to safe practices.
Common Sense Media encourages parents to coach kids to not chat with people they don’t know (unless they can verify they’re actually a friend, or a friend of a friend, in real life) and to not accept private messages (PMs) from anyone they don’t know.
They also advise emphasizing that kids should never to give away personal information, trust their instincts if someone makes them uncomfortable, and never move a conversation to a different platform (a telltale predator red flag).
Don’t allow kids to play behind closed doors.
“Children should play Roblox games in an open, family area where parents can supervise them, not behind a closed bedroom door,” says Nelson.”
Prevent kids from making changes to their account.
“Parents can also set a PIN code to prevent them from making changes to their account without permission—such as giving themselves broader play access,” says Jordan. “This also allows parents to curate their own game lists for their children.”
Maintain an open line of communication.
Whether you’re supervising your child on the platform or not, Nelson recommends having direct and open conversations to ensure your child knows that they can and should talk to you if they see or experience anything online that doesn’t seem right to them. He notes, “Having these conversations on an ongoing basis—and even checking in periodically to ask what they’re doing on the platform—can help you identify any potential problems that may come up.”
The Bottom Line
Roblox is a safe gaming platform for kids when parents take the recommendations from our experts seriously. Making it a rule that kids play Roblox in a shared family space where you can supervise their activity is the best way to ensure their safety.