Chat rooms can be a fun place to talk to friends and family in a very relaxed atmosphere. The Internet provides us with all kinds of opportunities to communicate, find useful information, and get to know people better. Unfortunately, the Internet is not free of predators that are looking to harm or otherwise take advantage of you. There are some vital safety tips that need to be followed closely.
• You should never give out personal information in a chat room, especially if it is to someone that you have never before met in person. Practice caution when giving personal information to those that you trust as it is possible for outsiders to tap into your online conversations.
• Never agree to meet someone that you only know from a chat room. If you insist on meeting someone that you have met online, make it a group date and meet in a public place. Do not allow yourself to be left alone with an online acquaintance until you have had several occasions in a safe group setting where you can get to know each other. Predators will not want to invest this amount of time into a relationship and will likely seek another target.
• Make sure that you are using passwords and nicknames that do not give hints about your personal identity. City names, last names and birthdays are poor choices for nicknames and passwords.
• Check the terms and conditions, code of conduct, and privacy statement at the chat site before you begin chatting. Know what you are getting into.
• Exercise extreme caution when someone you do not know very well asks you to meet in a private chat room. Remember, there is safety in numbers whether online or off.
Parents have a responsibility to teach their children about the dangers of chat rooms. Children are naturally trusting and do not perceive the same dangers that adults do. Predators know this and will intentionally target children because of their naivete. Make sure that you set safety guidelines for your children and that they understand that the rules for safe use of the Internet and chat rooms is intended to keep them out of harm’s way. Be an active participant in what your child does online. Let your children feel safe in telling you about an online incident that made them feel uncomfortable. Regularly check to see that your child is only visiting sites that you approve of. Below are some specific things that parents and children need to know about chat room safety.
• Know where your child is chatting. Kids can chat at school, at a friend’s house, from home, on their cell phones or by many other hand-held devices.
• Make sure that your children never send or post photos of themselves to people that they have never before met in person.
• Learn the jargon or “lingo” that kids use to keep their conversations private from their parents. For example, if a child needs whoever they are talking to to know that a parent is in the room, they may type POS. This means “Parent Over Shoulder” and should give the parent an indication that there may be something suspicious going on.
• Try software that is intended to keep families safe when they are online. One good example of just such a filter is included in the Windows Vista operating system.
Furthermore, parents need to know how to recognize the warning signs that a child is using a chat room inappropriately. This includes:
• Late night chatting.
• Chatting for more than 2 hours a day every day.
• Chatting alone and unsupervised for long periods of time
• Reluctance to share information regarding what was discussed in a chat room.
• Your child minimizes the chat room screen when you enter the room or has multiple applications opened but none are active on the monitor.