Mama Holiday: online safety on holidays

We’re staying at the Alamanda Palm Cove, a luxurious resort with two-bedroom self-contained suites, three pools, free DVDs and board games and – to the kids’ delight – free Wi-Fi.

In an instant, they connect their iPods to play Minecraft.

I’m a neurotic parent, but with parental controls installed on their devices, what could go wrong?

Well, a lot, according to cyber safety educator Leonie Smith, who electronically shakes her head when I tell her about the Man of Death. (Her actual words were, “You’re kidding me, right?”)

“Parents need to understand that some adults pose as kids in online games to groom kids playing games online,” she warns. “They’ll eventually try to get the child into a private messaging chat with Skype or Kik Messenger, and get the child to send nude photos or video.”

This can be a lot to take in when you are on holiday. Increasingly, tweens and teens are connecting with players at resorts, caravan parks and camping grounds.

Recent research by Marriot Australia reveals that Wi-Fi is a must-have for 61 per cent of teenagers on holiday.

The next 24 hours consist of Taj nagging, including, “Look Mum, he must be a kid. His spelling is terrible!”

So, I relent, after calling reception and asking: “Is there a Mr Death on the guest register?”

Taj sends a message on his iPod: “Meet us at the rock pool at 10am tomorrow. I’ll be wearing a red carnation.” (OK, I just made that last bit up.)

Instead of being the Grim Reaper, the Man of Death turns out to be another nine-year-old boy, albeit with a dark sense of humour.

Taj and Alex play happily in the pool, before murdering each other online.

This is what I’ve learnt:

■ It’s all right for kids to play online on holiday, especially if it leads to friendships off line. (Believe it or not, the Man of Death lives only five minutes’ drive from our house.)

■ However, you need to be vigilant, and it turns out parental controls aren’t enough.

“Kids who play Minecraft should avoid playing on public servers where they can mix with adults or Griefers – people who like to mess things up in the game,” says Smith.

Here are some guidelines for kids from

■ Never arrange to meet off line someone you meet online, without a trusted adult.

■ Don’t give them your phone number, Skype address or instant messaging profile.

■ Use a gamer tag or pseudonym, and a cartoon avatar instead of your photo.

For adults:

■ Find out whether the child has an online feature on their device, which allows for LAN or private world or server gaming.

■ Check whether there are any moderators in the game. They can ban players who are inappropriate.

■ Educate your child about recognising invasive questions, intimidation and manipulation.

It makes me yearn for the days when they just made friends by the pool: “Yeah, they look all right. Sure you can play with ’em.”

I guess I should be thankful for small mercies – that they are only trying to kill each other online.

Tracey Spicer stayed as a guest of Alamanda Palm Cove and Tropical Tourism North Queensland.

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