Chances are that your kid has a Roblox avatar and is one of the 70 million daily active users engaging in immersive role-play in Brookhaven, climbing an obstacle course tower in Tower of Hell or adopting pets in Adopt Me. These are some of the most visited experiences in Roblox, a user-generated gaming platform originally developed for kids that acts as a hub where they can access thousands of games in a pseudo-metaverse. It is also one of the fastest growing gaming platforms in the world, but, other than buying kids “Robux” — the platform’s in-game currency that is used for outfits, animations, abilities and weapons for kids’ avatars — many parents understand little about the space.
However, as the safety of Roblox has come under scrutiny, many parents are starting to ask questions. A Delaware man has been charged with kidnapping an 11-year-old girl he is said to have communicated with via Roblox. Over the summer, two mothers filed a lawsuit accusing Roblox of illegally facilitating child gambling, while a new class-action suit filed by multiple families just this month claims that Roblox falsely advertises itself as safe, but makes it impossible for parents to “monitor, track and quantify where and how children spend their money." The latter lawsuit also alleges that kids are being groomed by predators and exposed to violence and sexually explicit material, including, parents claim, by being sent links to porn or being asked to engage in sex with their avatars.
Speaking to Yahoo Life last year about safety concerns, Laura Higgins, Roblox’s director of community safety and civility, said, "We update our filters continuously, multiple times a day.” Higgins added that, "For users under 13, our filters are even stricter and include any potentially identifiable personal information, slang and more. In order for us to maintain a safe platform and prevent inappropriate content in violation of our policies, users are also not able to exchange images or videos via chat or one-to-one user interactions on Roblox."
The discrepancy between Roblox’s policies and parents' experiences and concerns leaves many wondering just how safe it is for kids to use. Yahoo Life spoke with Laura Ordoñez, head of digital content and curation at Common Sense Media, for answers.
What age is Roblox for?
Common Sense Media rates Roblox as most appropriate for ages 13+. “At that age kids have a bit more awareness about how to discern keeping themselves safe on platforms like this," Ordoñez tells Yahoo Life. She notes that a "platform that is so wide like Roblox does involve a lot more critical thinking and digital literacy, and kids don’t usually have that or start to understand that until 12 or 13."
However, kids under 13 make up a huge portion of Roblox’s users. According to a February 2022 SEC filing, 22% of users are under 9 and 23% are between the ages of 9 and 12. But those percentages are shifting. According to the company’s Q3 Shareholder Letter, ages 17 to 24 now make up the fastest growing group for the company, and Ordoñez believes parents need to understand this demographic shift. “They haven’t put in enough restrictions for kids that are solid enough to claim a safe space for kids as they are expanding,” she warns.
What are the dangers of using Roblox?
“Parents think Roblox is safe. They think that it is a place where children can communicate, learn, create and have experiences, even from a very young age, that are safe," Anne Andrews, founding partner of Andrews & Thornton, one of the law firms representing the parents in the latest class-action lawsuit against Roblox, tells Yahoo Life. "They think it is like a playground at a school where there are monitors and behavior is watched, even though kids can be creative and learn and experience other children. It’s not. It’s far from it." According to Andrews, Roblox has "misrepresented the safety of its platform to hundreds of millions of users."
Ordoñez warns parents to watch for three main risks:
Inappropriate content: While Roblox does have content moderation and restricts different keywords and language, there are so many active daily users “that they will ever have enough human people to moderate the content, so it can be easy for kids to fall upon sexual content,” Ordoñez says. Also, while Roblox has put in place guidelines around what is appropriate content, games are user-generated, so kids can potentially create violent games that they label as safe.
Online predators: While Roblox does claim to monitor content in public chats, they don’t moderate personal chats. Also, even if parents have disabled chats for their kids, their kids will still see the in-game chats that are happening. “In a perfect world, we would hope that they are using these chat features to talk to their friends and engage with their friends on games, but the reality is that they don’t always know who is on the other side of that conversation," says Ordoñez. "That leaves the ability for predators to come in because they know it’s a high population of kids who use Roblox."
Commercialization: Ordoñez defines this as the “spending of online currency on these games that is made so easily available to kids, and many times it’s without the consent of adults or without their knowledge.” On Roblox, it is especially dangerous because the currency is called “Robux” — a cute name that makes it even harder for kids to realize they are using real money.
“Younger kids don’t have a concept of what money is, and the way that Roblox presents it is to make it fun,” Ordoñez says. It’s also easy to make purchases without parental consent, especially with third-party apps like PayPal, where most parents already have their credit card and credentials saved. Ordoñez proved this herself by making two accounts — one for a user under 13, and one for an adult — and found the differences between the two almost meaningless; she says it was far too easy for her to make purchases when logged in as being younger than 13.
The company’s Q3 Shareholder Letter emphasizes that its fastest growing age groups, those in the 17-24 and 13-16 age groups, are considered Gen Z, “a demographic of particular interest to global advertisers.” Roblox is encouraged to expand its partnerships with brands, artists and IP who want to target kids. “If you’re bringing in kids' brands and artists that they want to see and IP that you know they love because that will keep them there, then you need to create a safe space for them,” Ordoñez says.
Are there any benefits to using Roblox?
Ordoñez says yes. The concept itself is amazing because it makes designing video games and virtual worlds accessible, easy and fun. Additionally, the partnerships between Roblox and different IP and brands allow kids to be really involved in those spaces, including events like “concerts [and] virtual experiences that they couldn’t get [access to] in the real world … because of cost or safety of going places," she notes. "So there are a lot of good parts about it, but there needs to be more safety around it."
What can parents do?
Despite safety concerns, Roblox is very popular with kids. Here's what parents can do to protect their family while taking part:
Familiarize yourself with the platform: Parents need to know what Roblox looks like, how it works and what their kids will be exposed to and doing when logged in. Common Sense Media has a “Parents’ Ultimate Guide” that breaks down everything about Roblox, so they know how to help their kids navigate the space.
Use parental controls: Parents can adjust settings, though Ordoñez finds the process “very confusing." Parental controls are essentially split up between different pages like “privacy,” “parental control” and “account restrictions"; parents need to use all settings to control what their kids can see and who they can communicate with. However, in Ordoñez's opinion the settings available aren’t comprehensive or reliable enough. For example, personal chats aren't monitored, which means it’s “really on the parent to prevent predatory behavior in person-to-person chats," she says.
Talk to kids about digital literacy and online safety: Parents need to understand how their children’s minds are working when they play video games, and they need to use these conversations to help their kids develop digital literacy. Kids should also follow online safety practices such as “not talking to strangers, not giving out personal information, always being kind online and reporting [it] if someone is not being kind online,” Ordoñez says. Kids should also understand the reasoning behind such rules.
Monitor younger kids: Small children should not play online games unsupervised or on a phone, which has such a small screen that it’s too hard for parents to really see what is happening. A TV or computer is a better choice.
Don’t store payment information: Parents should never keep their card on file for any game their kid will play unsupervised.
The ability for kids to create and interact with each other via Roblox can be beneficial, but it’s most appropriate for older kids, Ordoñez says, and parents need to be familiar with the platform and take action to prepare their kid to engage in it. Parents should also continuously monitor and discuss what is happening online — and raise the alarm if there's anything worrisome happening. "Until you hold these companies accountable, they’ll just go along and continue business as usual because at the end of the day for them, it’s a business,” says Ordoñez.