Is Roblox safe for kids?
The recent stories coming from parents whose kids use Roblox are not good. Sexual propositions. Simulated gang rape. Sex rooms (here’s a link to a recent news story, but be warned, it’s graphic and may be considered offensive). Being dragged behind a building and killed.
There’s so much potential in this platform, which encourages creativity, coding, and fun with other gamers. But, like most digital environments, humans find a way to distort good things. Parents and caring adults can read about all of the game’s risks below.
What is Roblox?
Summary Description: The Roblox app is the new Minecraft. Players create their own mini-games that resemble the block worlds you might recognize in Minecraft. These games are categorized and can be searched. Kids can learn to code using the Lua programming language in order to create their own games in the Roblox Studio.
Apple App Store rating: 12+ for infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence, infrequent/mild realistic violence (NOTABLE absence of anything sexual mentioned in the app store rating, which is egregious).
Google Play rating: 10+
What do parents need to know about Roblox?
July 2020 Update: Roblox recently launched Party Place, which allows kids to create private, mini-social networks exclusively with friends to chat, hang out, and plan which games to play. Roblox has seen meteoric downloads during the pandemic. New features are no surprise! Make sure your kids only invite friends they truly know into their servers.
Porn and sexualized content are difficult to prevent. In January 2018, there was a widely-circulated story about a 6-year-old discovering a “sex room” game. Additionally, Roblox developers can code what are referred to as “particles” into avatars (a game’s characters), which can be made to emit floating, pornographic pictures and music with explicit content.
Roblox is no different than any online environment that allows human beings to upload their own stuff. That “stuff” will always include sexualized content.
Therefore, the app’s 12+ rating seems inaccurate. There is a notable absence of any reference to sexualized content in the App Store description of the Roblox App. One could classify some of the avatars as extremely suggestive, if not borderline pornographic. Consider this story from a star Rugby player from England who pretended to be his 8-year-old son and was shocked at what happened next:
He said from the outside the game looked fine, but when he went into a room with a pool he was immediately “propositioned”. “They said ‘hi’ so I said ‘hi’ and they asked if I was a boy or girl and my age so I said I was an eight-year-old boy,” he says. “They asked me to follow them to their house, then into the bedroom and asked me to lay down on top of them and then they started with the sexual movements. They said ‘you look cute’ and ‘you look sexy’. It was sickening reading all the comments pop up. My kids were completely oblivious as to what the words and stuff meant.”
Kids can actually use Roblox Studio to code their own game. As mentioned above, using the Lua coding language, kids can build their own mini-games, which for a kid aspiring to create games as an adult, this might be a good place to practice (with supervision).
There’s an in-game chat feature. In the above image, you can see the “CHAT” icon on the bottom where the chatting takes place. For iOS and Android devices, chat can be toggled off in the Settings. See the Parental Controls below.
Also, if when setting up the account a child is <13, and the chat feature is left on, then Roblox applies chat filtering by inserting #### for known swear words. Although, kids are pretty savvy at evading these by typing things like:
Additionally, even with all of the pins and restrictions set, anyone can send anyone a friend request, which happens regularly during game play. Some are spam driven while other are real humans.
Therefore, sexual predators love this app. “Wherever the kids are, that’s where the sexual predators are, too.” This is a reality of the digital age. Because this app is predominantly used by kids ages 8-12, this is going to create an automatic attraction to sexual predators.
What are “ODers” in Roblox? Here’s an explanation from the Common Sense Media:
“OD” stands for “online dater.” These are folks who join social networks, including gaming sites like Roblox, to find romantic partners. Games on Roblox can even be designed expressly for ODers. Roblox doesn’t explicitly forbid ODers, and ODers aren’t necessarily preying on kids. (They may be solely looking for other ODers.) Roblox‘s monitors look out for inappropriate conversations and content. And its community rules prohibit chat that’s sexual in nature.
Related PYE post: Identifying Tricky People – Stranger Danger in the Digital Age
How to enable parental controls in Roblox:
- Make sure your young child has an under 13 yrs. account. Under 13 accounts allow parents to have more control.
- Make sure your child does not use a real name to sign up (the game also tells them this during set-up), and has a secure password that they know not to share with anyone other than you.
- Since your child can set up an adult or over 13+ account on the same device, make sure your child only has one account with the correct age.
- If your child has not set their age to the correct setting you can change their age back to under 13+ with your consent. See Here;
- Log into the game via the app or website. Tap the icon in the lower right (dark circle with 3 white dots), then Settings, then Account Info. Add a parent email address (this will give you more control over the account in the next step).
- After verifying the parent email, back in Settings, tap Security. You can set 2-step verification if someone tries to use the account from a new device. Further down, you can set a 4-digit pin for account changes.
- Still in Settings -> Security -> toggle on Account Restrictions. This automatically removes the chat feature.
- In Settings -> Notifications, check the desired boxes.
- Also make sure your child doesn’t reveal personal information in Settings -> Account Info. where there is a “Personal” data box where users can describe themselves.
But, circumvention is so easy, since Roblox allows new account creation so that kids can just create a new account.
Roblox does have several ways to see the history for certain account activities. When logged into Roblox through a browser (not through the app), you can view the following histories:
Creations such as games, items, sounds, ads…etc (Develop)
Private message history (Messages)
Friends and Followers (Friends)
Virtual item purchase and trade history (Trade)
When compared to other gaming platforms, these features are actually quite good.
So, in summary, with the pin set and a <13 year-old birthday locked in, here’s what the Roblox experience will look like:
- No messaging or in-game chats.
- For games that are tagged accurately, a child <13 can’t enter violent or sexualized games.
- Your child will still receive random friend requests. Check the requests tab and “Ignore” them
- Your child will still encounter human beings with horrible words and/or intent, but since chat is shut down, there’s no communicating with him/her.
There are in-app purchases in Roblox. Beware that kids might be tempted to buy additional gaming features if given the opportunity. Bling matters!
Reporting abuse looks straightforward. Blocking another player or illegal content is fairly simple by clicking this article from Roblox.
The bottom line on Roblox:
Roblox feels more like a 13+ app. There are parental controls but since you just can’t control all of the other humans interacting with your child, it remains slightly risky. If you allow younger kids to use the app, then gameplay should always be with an adult present. In the spirit of creating digital trust, sit down and play a game with them! Stay involved. Very involved. Our hope is that at some point, there would be a solo, “private” way to play Roblox, similar to Minecraft, without interaction with other gamers.