When Rebekah Wilson's then 6-year-old son, Ethan, began asking to play Roblox, the Maryland mom was skeptical.
"I knew nothing about it," says Wilson. "We started with him playing only when we kept a very close eye on him or when my husband played with him."
Ethan is now 7, and Wilson says that while he has a bit more freedom within the gaming platform, she still knows little about how to control her son's experience on Roblox.
"I'd love to have more say over what he can and can't do, or settings to restrict things in all the games," she says, including the platform's chat feature.
Meanwhile, Trina Daikabanzila, who lives in North Carolina, says that, like Wilson, she often feels clueless about how to ensure her 6-year-old daughter Grace is staying safe online.
"I'm not technologically inclined and don't keep up with the trends so I honestly did not know what Roblox was," she admits. "Even today I still don't really understand it."
Despite most parents being unsure of how to keep their children safe while playing Roblox, the number of kids engaging in game play on the platform continues to expand. A recent annual report from Roblox indicates that last year its online community grew from over 30 million daily users to 50 million across 180 countries. And, slightly over half of the Roblox community is 13 or older, meaning kids and teens make up the bulk of the platform's daily users.
As more and more kids pick up their laptops and tablets to play popular Roblox games like Adopt Me, through which kids take on the responsibility of caring for virtual eggs that hatch into pets, and Brookhaven, which allows them hang out with friends in an online world, more parents are asking: How can parents keep kids safe while still allowing them to join in the fun?
Laura Higgins, director of community safety and civility at Roblox, says the key to making sure kids have a safe experience is for parents to be informed about the platform. For Safer Internet Day, Yahoo Life asked Higgins to answer some of parents' biggest questions.
What is Roblox and what are kids doing on it?
Roblox is an online gaming platform where game developers from within the community create digital experiences, or games, for all users to participate in, says Higgins.
"It's a place where people come together to connect, create and express themselves," Higgins tells Yahoo Life. "Friends get together on Roblox, interact and have fun sharing experiences, be it 'attending' a music concert, designing their own houses or going on virtual skateboarding adventures together."
"Roblox is also a place where people express themselves creatively through their digital identity or by building their own virtual experiences and items with our free tools," she continues. "We've heard from many families how, especially during these past two years, Roblox has been a lifeline — helping kids and teens stay in touch with their friends and connect with extended family."
What are some of the biggest things parents should know about keeping their kids safe on Roblox?
Higgins says the ultimate goal at Roblox is to build a safe and diverse community while connecting users and encouraging "civility and optimism."
"We have lots of safety measures in place and a large expertly trained team with thousands of members dedicated to protecting our users and monitoring 24/7 for inappropriate content," Higgins says, referring to the platform's chat feature, which allows players to communicate with other players in the same game. "We filter all text chat on the platform to block inappropriate content or personal information, and users can also easily mute or block players and report inappropriate content or behavior using our 'report abuse' system."
"For parents and caregivers," she adds, "we offer parental controls and features like 'account restrictions,' so they can limit kids' accounts to a curated list of contacts and content on the platform, set monthly spending controls and lock kids' content settings so they cannot be changed."
Roblox also has a civility initiative in place: videos and online content designed to show kids the importance of being cautions with strangers, not sharing personal information and standing up for themselves and their friends in the face of online bullying.
"We help kids build resilience and confidence so they can handle tough situations and conversations as they navigate the real world," says Higgins. "But kids and teens are growing up and building connections in the digital world, too, and they also need skills to interact in a positive way."
How can parents determine if a Roblox game is age-appropriate for their kids?
While there's no way to search for games specific to younger age groups, Higgins says parents' first line of defense in keeping things age-appropriate is to visit Roblox's 'account restrictions' page to limit a child only to games approved for the 13 and under crowd.
"Looking forward, we are working on experience guidelines to match users with content that's appropriate for their age," says Higgins.
To further protect kids, Roblox offers an opt-in age verification process, where kids must be able to prove they are 13 or older by submitting government-issued photo identification.
Are there safety features in place for in-game chat on Roblox?
Parents have the option to limit their child's chat to a curated list of friends within Roblox, or to disable chat altogether, says Higgins. Still, while kids can be prevented from talking to others, the chat feature cannot be turned off entirely: Kids will still see chats taking place in games among other players.
Higgins says there are measures in place to make those chats safe.
"We filter all text chat on the platform to block inappropriate content — discriminatory speech, bullying, extremism, violence, sexual content and more — as well as personal information and instructions on how to move off the platform [to chat]," Higgins says. "We update our filters continuously, multiple times a day. 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."
Can parents see kids' activity history on Roblox?
While there's no history section similar to a web browser on Roblox, Higgins says there are ways parents can keep tabs on what their kids are doing on the platform.
"One of our top recommendations for parents who want to get involved in their kids' digital lives and understand the platforms they use better is to ask them if they can show you what games they play, who they chat with and what they like about their favorite experiences or friends on Roblox," she says. "You could ask them to show you places they've recently visited — located in the 'continue' section on the main page — or friends they connected with."
Overall, as with any online platform, Higgins says the biggest way to keep kids safe is to be vigilant in understanding where kids are going and what they are doing — and, to have a little fun while doing it.
"Showing genuine interest and spending time with your kids and teens online is one of the best ways to understand their digital hangouts, bond and build trust," she says. "We've seen parents who start playing together with their Roblox fans on the platform and they say it helps them have organic conversations while also coaching their kids and teens to navigate the online world. Joining them in their digital world can open up the door to conversations about their safety and their social connections online in a way that feels natural."
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.