Are Chat Rooms for Kids Safe?
5 Tips for Monitoring Your Child's Chat Room Activity
While chat rooms for kids present themselves as safe places for kids to connect, are they safe? While you want your child to use the Internet to take advantage of all the useful information on it, you also want to avoid inherent dangers. The biggest online danger children face is a pedophile trying to engage them, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. So the most important thing you can do is to supervise children while they are online, reports the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Alternatives to Chat Rooms
Larry Magid, a co-founder of ConnectSafely and the founder of SafeKids, says, "Chat rooms for kids, while they still exist, are pretty much on the outs with most young people." He notes that many kids have switched to chat apps like Yik Yak, Whisper and ask.fm, but he acknowledges that kids are still using chat rooms and parents should make sure they're safe.
When 14-year-old Zach Marks' parents banned him from using Facebook at age 11, he created Grom Social, a site for kids ages 5 to 15 that currently has 800,000 users. "The site is by kids for kids," says Marks. "It has 24/7 monitoring. There's no cursing on the site, and it has anti-bullying, anti-drug and anti-smoking messages." Marks' site deletes messages that contain personal information and teaches kids why that's a bad practice.
Go Over Basic Safety Rules
The following chat room basics apply to kids' chat rooms, too!
- Never use your real name. Choose a screen name or a nickname instead.
- Never give out personal information, including your real name, address, school you attend, phone number, password and email address.
- Never meet anyone in person whom you know only from a chat room.
- Never post pictures of yourself.
Implement Safety Steps
Review Internet safeguards, such as these tips from the California Department of Education:
- Look over the chat room your child wants to join. Make sure it has a monitor or moderator and that there is no private messaging function.
- Be an observer in the chat room before allowing a child to enter it and then check back in from time to time.
- Monitor your child's chat room activity whenever you like. You might want to only allow your child to use the chat room in your presence.
- Show your child how to block or ignore someone and how to save chat sessions by copying them into Word documents.
- Limit the time your child spends in chat rooms.
- Tell your child to stop the chat if a strange or inappropriate message appears and to let you know right away if that happens. Reassure your child that you won't be angry and the child isn't to blame if someone says something bad.
Make the Experience Fun and Safe
Chat rooms for kids can be fun. If you decide to let yours use them, you don't want to scare them by only telling the dangers. The University of Michigan Health System says spending time with your child on the Internet can help them and you feel more comfortable. Enter the chat room with your child. When your child receives a friend request, make it a rule that you need to meet the friend first.
Being a kind person in chat rooms helps kids have a positive experience. "Parents must teach the lessons of common decency in real life and online from a very early age," says Chris Phelps, the founder of the Campaign for Kindness, a program she developed that teaches kids ways to speak kindly to each other in the classroom, the playground and on the Internet. Also, be sure you're up on your current acronyms. "In the digital arena," Phelps says, "kids are exposed to a whole new language that they hide behind (for example, the acronym PIR for 'parent in room' and LMIRL for 'let's meet in real life')."
Whatever Internet rules your family establishes, make sure they're consistent. If you don't allow chatting, your babysitter shouldn't allow it. The foundations parents lay will help kids self-police as they grow into the adult digital space, says Phelps.
And check out these 5 Dangers of Social Media to Discuss With Your Kids.
Laura Agadoni is a parenting writer and mom whose articles appear in Modern Mom, The Penny Hoarder, Tom's of Maine, Global Post and Livestrong.
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