Keep children safe in online chat rooms
Children, especially teens, love to use chat rooms. They can be great places to meet other children from across the country and around the world. However, chat rooms can also be dangerous places. Your children need to be aware that people in chat rooms are strangers, and may not be honest or always share their true identities. Children can also be targeted in chat rooms by bullies and become victims of hate speech. Another serious concern is that children can innocently reveal private information about family and friends that could lead to fraud or other crimes.
What is a chat room?
According to Wikipedia “a chat room is a term used primarily by mass media to describe any form of synchronous conferencing, occasionally even asynchronous conferencing.”
The important thing to remember is that they come in many different forms. A chat room could allow live-time chat on a website, or may come in a variety of visual or textual formats. In general anywhere that a number of people can come together to talk in live time can have the same benefits and dangers. More recent technology has allowed live-time chat in online virtual worlds such as Second Life. While these allow much more freedom, they still act as chat rooms at a basic level, allowing people to communicate.
What are the risks?
The anonymity of the Internet makes it hazardous for unsupervised children. Lonely children can be seduced by a sympathetic stranger who is willing to listen to them and their problems, and wants to develop a friendship. Someone could strike up a chat with a child by pretending to be another child who shares the same interests. This stranger could really be a paedophile luring the child into a meeting that can lead to sexual assault.
Even sharing small, seemingly harmless bits of personal information online can lead to devastating results. The predator could track down the child, for example, based simply on first name, gender, and school sports team.
Many online games allow for voice as well as text chatting between sessions. Children should exercise the same precautions when using gaming chats, and should be cautious of overly eager new “friends” who pressure them for their mobile phone number, their address, or a face-to-face meeting. Children should also protect the privacy of their friends and other family members, and should cut off chats with people fishing for information. Fortunately, you can implement responsible safeguards to help ensure that your children will have safe, educational, and entertaining online experiences.
Top tips for keeping children safe in cyberspace
- Position the computer in your main living space and make sure the monitor faces outward into the room so there is no secrecy. Be suspicious if your children quickly change the screen when you pass by, or are hiding files or disks – someone may have sent them pornography or questionable content.
- Work as a team to set boundaries. Discuss with your children exactly what is OK and what is not OK regarding which websites are appropriate for them, which chat rooms to visit, and what kinds of things they can talk about there. Only let your children use monitored chat rooms. Keep children away from private or one-on-one chat rooms, and ask to be introduced to online friends. Avoid “.alt” chat rooms – they focus on alternative topics that may be inappropriate for children. Get to know your children’s online friends as you do their school and neighbourhood friends. Learn to surf the Web and chat online yourself so you understand what it is that your children are doing.
- Stress to your children that they need to tell you if they receive any odd or upsetting messages while chatting, and that you will not be angry with them or ban the Internet as a result. Make it clear to your children that you understand that they cannot control what other people say to them and that they are not to blame if this happens.
- Set strict time limits for internet use and enforce them. Software is available that enforces these limits. Ban late-night use. Do not permit your children to be left alone in cyberspace for long periods of time – this is when they are most vulnerable.
- Make it clear to your children that people in chat rooms are always strangers, no matter how often they chat with them, and no matter how well they think they know them. They should be told that people can lie about who they are, and their new friend may be a 40-year-old man instead of a 13-year-old girl.
- Make sure your children understand that they are never to reveal personally identifiable information such as their real name, gender, age, school, phone number, or where they live. Have them use a chat pseudonym that is non-provocative and doesn’t hint at who they really are. They must also guard other people’s personal information, such as friends’ names and phone numbers.
- Don’t let your children open attachments to email messages from friends or file-sharing services without you being there to approve and scan the content for viruses. Predators can send pornography or other questionable material.
- Install up-to-date security software on your PC. The McAfee Internet Security Suite for Sky Broadband customers offers trusted protection from identity thefts, spams, and other threats, ensuring a worry-free experience for you and your children. It filters and blocks offensive content / pictures from inappropriate websites. The integrated privacy service also restricts the sending of personal information without your knowledge, so that you can keep your children safe.
- Make sure your children know how important it is that they not meet online friends face to face without your knowledge. Determine their online friend’s true identity before permitting any meeting. Make sure any such meeting happens in a public place, and accompany them.
- Learn how to save chat-session logs, how to block users, and how to report problems. You can save sessions by copying and pasting the message text into a word-processing program. Most chat programmes allow you to block a user by right-clicking on their name in your contact list and choosing the “Block” or “Ignore” feature. If your child has a problem with another chatter, send the copied log to the chat-room moderator or administrator. You can find the contact information in the help or reporting section of the programme.
- Think twice about sending pictures. Sending family or school pictures to family and friends online is fine… as long as it’s done with a parent’s permission. However, sending pictures to strangers is unacceptable under any circumstances. In the wrong hands, these pictures can be used for a variety of sinister purposes.
- Avoid using real last names. Don’t give people, friends or otherwise, more information than they need. This is especially important if the situation appears to be unusual. Instead of using your real last name, for example, it’s a safer bet to use your middle name, or just make one up.
- Never share passwords. Impress upon children that passwords are not to be shared with anyone. In fact, no reputable online service would even ask for it. That’s why, if any site asks for a password, children should tell their parents about it.
- Report it! If you have any concerns regarding the type of chat your child is receiving and you suspect someone may be trying to commit a crime or get your child to engage in inappropriate conversations or meet them, consider reporting this.
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