Children, especially teens, love to use chat rooms. They can be great places to meet other kids 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 kids can innocently reveal private information about family and friends that could lead to fraud or other crimes.
What Are the Risks?
The anonymity of the Internet makes it hazardous for unsupervised kids. A lonely child 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 the child by pretending to be another kid who shares the same interests. This stranger could really be a pedophile 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. Kids 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 10 Tips for Keeping Children Safe in Cyberspace
These ten tips will help you and your kids make the right decisions.
- 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 child quickly changes the screen when you pass by, or is hiding files or disks—someone may have sent them pornography or questionable content.
- Work as a team to set boundaries. Discuss with your child exactly what is OK and what is not OK regarding what kind of web sites are appropriate for them, which chat rooms to visit, and what kinds of things they can talk about there. Only let your kids use monitored chat rooms. Avoid “.alt” chat rooms—they focus on alternative topics that may be inappropriate for kids. Get to know your child’s online friends as you do their school and neighborhood friends. Learn to surf the web and chat online yourself so you understand what it is that your child is doing.
- Stress to your child 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 the child 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 child to be left alone in cyberspace for long periods of time—this is when they are most vulnerable.
- Make it clear to your child 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 child understands 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 kids 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 offers trusted eight-in-one protection from identity thieves, spammers, and predators, ensuring a worry-free experience for you and your kids. It filters offensive content and pictures that a predator may send, and blocks inappropriate web sites. The integrated Parental Controls also restricts sending of personal information without your knowledge so that you can keep your children safe. Also, check out online child safety monitoring software like IMSafer. For the most complete way to keep your children safe online, use McAfee Family Protection. It keeps children of all ages safe from exposure to inappropriate content, social networking risks, strangers, and other online threats. With McAfee, kids are free to safely explore, learn, and enjoy their online interests.
- Make sure your child knows how important it is that they not meet online friends face to face without your knowledge. Determine the person’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 programs 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 program.