Nintendo Switch is known as the most family-friendly of the major video game platforms. Its most kid-friendly (and most successful) franchises are household names: Mario, Zelda, Pokémon. Megahits like Fortnite (rated for ages 13 and up) and Minecraft are also available on Switch, and its online service allows players of all ages to connect with each other.

Of course, not every gamer or product kids encounter online is acting in good faith. As a parent myself, I understand why internet safety for kids is so important. But what does internet safety really mean when it comes to video games?

For some, it means keeping jerks, creeps and scammers out of their kids’ online worlds.

No parent wants a surprise credit card bill for their kid’s fake game loot (hello, exploitative gaming practices). Unfortunately, it happens, as in one 2020 incident when a 6-year-old boy spent $16,000 on virtual gold coins while playing on an iPad linked to his mom’s PayPal account.

Others worry most about privacy — what kind of personal info do game platforms track? What do kids willingly divulge that could come back to bite them? And why are those parental control settings so obnoxious?

With a solid understanding of Nintendo Switch parental controls and a few pointers on the company’s privacy policy, you’ll be prepared to set and enforce boundaries for your children so they can focus on the fun stuff, safely. Here’s a quick primer.

First things first: Set up Nintendo Switch Parental Controls

Nintendo Switch Parental Controls panel
Nintendo Switch Parental Controls panel

Nintendo has a dedicated app where parents can manage settings for their child’s device. Set-up is quick and easy — just make sure your phone and your Nintendo Switch are handy when you start. Once you install the app on Android or iPhone, navigate to the settings tab on the Switch home screen, then select “Parental Controls.”

If you haven’t already, create a PIN number, which you’ll use to verify changes and in-app purchases. Then check the app on your phone for a registration code to enter on your Switch. This will sync the two devices, and you can finish the settings.

Parents have a decent degree of control within the settings. You can:

  • Set a playtime limit
  • Restrict access to sharing on social media
  • Restrict your child’s communication with other users
  • Set restrictions so your child can’t play games meant for older audiences
Image via Nintendo, Apple App Store
Image via Nintendo, Apple App Store

If using an app to monitor your child’s gaming feels a little invasive, tech author and parenting expert Jordan Shapiro suggests that it could actually offer a teachable moment. Parents can start a conversation with their kids about how personal privacy is never really 100% guaranteed when using technology.

“It's the internet, there's zero privacy,” Shapiro says. “So I'm all for parents getting as involved as you can to make sure your kids know from the beginning that they should never expect that there's such a thing as privacy on a digital device.”

Eyeball that Privacy Policy

One thing Nintendo Switch parental controls don’t cover is data privacy. This is determined by the terms of the company’s privacy policy, which you have to agree to in order to use its products and software.

“No security measure, let alone a document written by lawyers, can guarantee the safety of users,” warns Misha Rykov, a privacy and data analyst at Mozilla. “This said, Nintendo's privacy policy is relatively good in terms of privacy measures.”

The policy is long, but Rykov likes that it includes these key terms:

  • Nintendo says it does not sell your personal information to third parties
  • Nintendo does not collect data from children under 13 without parental consent and verification
  • There are limits to how long Nintendo can retain your personal information
  • All users can request their data be deleted

What kind of data does Nintendo Switch collect? According to the policy, any personal information that players willingly share, along with technical and playdata from your Switch device, is fair game. The device also tracks which services you use and how you use them, along with your content, purchases and location. Info from any social media accounts paired with your kid’s Switch? Yep, that gets collected too. Nintendo also collects some user data that is anonymized, and that data is not subject to the terms of the privacy policy.

Check out Mozilla’s *Privacy Not Included (PNI) guide for more details on how Nintendo Switch and more than 100 other smart devices and apps handle your personal data.

Don’t Sleep on the Company’s Privacy Track Record

Your data is only as safe as the company handling it, and like other gaming platforms, Nintendo isn’t immune to hacks and data breaches. The most notable came in 2020, when nearly 300,000 user accounts were breached, with some used to make fraudulent purchases.

Mozilla’s Rykov recommends that all gamers — children and adults alike — turn on two-factor authentication. (That’s what prevented lots of other Nintendo user accounts from being compromised during the 2020 hack.) And the company advocates that all users set up two-factor authentication for maximum security.

In addition to these practical steps, experts encourage parents to keep talking to their kids about responsible conduct online.

“We spend years teaching our kids how to navigate playgrounds,” Shapiro says, which entails teaching them how to share, take turns, respect personal space, and deal with strangers.

Online environments are no different. That said, technology and children are both constantly changing, so updating the rules may be appropriate as kids get older and develop their skills, experts say.