Windows XP / Networking

Be Wary of Chat Rooms

Kids love chat rooms. They make virtual friends. They get a chance to create a persona and become the person they'd like to be. Reality and truthfulness are in short supply in chat rooms.

Chat rooms abound on the Internet, although many parents are not aware that they exist outside of AOL. Many chat rooms are dedicated to special interests and topics, but most kids hang out in generic chat rooms, some of which are organized by age group.

One concern for parents is that the language used in chat rooms can be offensive, violent, and (to many parents) disgusting. But most of the time, language per se is not dangerous. The inherent problem with chat rooms is that you don't really know whom you are chatting with. Neither you nor your children have any way of verifying that a person is indeed who he says he is. Your son may think he 's chatting with a 12-year-old boy when in fact he is chatting with an adult who is posing as a young boy. Predatory adults - mostly child molesters - often hang out in chat rooms and try to befriend young children. The organizations devoted to finding missing children point out that some missing children were lured from their homes to meet chatroom friends.

The best advice is to "pick your battles," and when you are weighing the subjects, the people in the chat room pose a larger threat than the language in the chat room. Make sure that your children follow these safety tips:

  • Use a generic, asexual screen name that does not indicate your age or location. Often, online handles reflect some physical or other characteristic, but for children, that is a no-no. If you are an esoteric parent, you can have a lot of fun picking strange names. (How about Orange, Wallpaper, or Lantern for screen names?)
  • Never reveal your real name, address, or telephone number to any chatroom acquaintance. Don't even reveal the region you are from, the name of your school, or the name of your Little League team. With enough personal information, nefarious types can piece together more than you realize.
  • Never accept an invitation to meet a chat-room acquaintance.
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