There is reason to be alarmed. An estimated 90% of all online sexual solicitations are made in either Chat Rooms or by Instant Messaging. Another estimate puts wireless phones in the pockets of over 20 million kids. At least half of these kids use Instant Messaging. Kids love chat rooms and to IM, especially in class, it seems.
For safety reasons, parents need to establish serious rules for their kids handling of internet use, wireless phones and instant messaging. Stress to your children the importance of personally knowing the receiver of the IMs they send. Kids should never participate in instant messaging with someone they don't know. That said however, a stalker was recently caught hacking into computer buddy lists and posing as someone a child knows.
The revenue from mobile phone pornography is estimated to have already surpassed one billion dollars. A staggering 87% of university students polled in the “Campus Kiss and Tell,” survey claim to have had virtual sex by using Instant Messenger, webcam, or telephone. Pornography also carries the possibility of addiction for some people.
However, the most dangerous area of cyberspace for children is a chat room. The chat room concept can offer great opportunities for teens. They get to interact and share with other teens of like interests. Learn from kids in other cultures and circumstances. But, the risks can be extreme.
In an act of responsible customer service, MSN closed down all its chat rooms in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and most of Asia, and changed the way all others are operated. "As a responsible leader we feel it necessary to make these changes because online chat services are increasingly being misused."
It is virtually impossible for a child to know who they are really talking to. Children are venerable targets to predators who are adept at controlling conversation and emotions. Kids can be, and are exposed to posts not age or even socially appropriate. According to the FBI over half of all online incidents involving predators happen in chat rooms. And law enforcement officials also estimate that as many as 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment.
Some chat room providers want kids to post a “profile,” providing information such as age, sex, hobbies, and interests. Profiles are intended to help children meet other kids with similar interests, but this also makes it easier for predators. Have your child create a user name that doesn’t identify them as being a girl or boy. Stress how dangerous it is to give out personal information like a name, mailing address, e-mail address, or to post a photograph online.
Look for a chat room that is age appropriate and has 24 hour monitoring. A good directive to follow is kids should never type anything they wouldn’t say in public. Kids shouldn’t get into personal conversations online.
Spamers take advantage of chat rooms to track user’s email addresses. Sexual predators too, are placing cookies in browsers, so they can track kids and send them pornographic e-mails. Consider asking your service provider about disabling “cookies.”
Consider the draw of a “friend” offering to give a child free sports cards or what ever holds the child’s interest. Make sure they understand that it is never safe to get together with someone they "meet” online. Vigilantly ask your children who they are talking to. If your child has a new online friend, “meet” them online yourself. Stress to kids that people online are not always who they say they are.
A national news story this week reported a teen “honor student,” being stopped by authorities while trying to board a plane to Jordan. She was sneaking off to visit a man she had “met” in a chat room. She was a bright, attractive, and popular girl. This shows the strong “con” ability of online sexual racketeers. Even though, children are considered even more at risk if they have low self-esteem, are shy and lonely, concerned with weight issues, or live in a home where the parents are going through separation or divorce.
Be wary if children seem to change what they are doing when you walk in the room. It is also considered a warning sign if kids start spending long hours online. Parents should seriously consider keeping the computer in an open area where they can supervise use and enforce internet safety rules.
One new product called a Virtual ID can show teens who they are talking to. The down side is they have to patiently follow the verification process which can take a few minutes. There is also a yearly membership of around 20 dollars.
Kids are too young to place locks on their bedroom doors. Given the gravity of modern circumstances, you should also have access to your child’s password. If a child wants a private space to vent, you could invest in a writing journal for him or her.
The following is a list of commonly used chat codes.
LOL -laughing out loud
BRB -be right back
POS -Parents over shoulder
P911 -Parents are coming, watch your language
TA/SA -Teacher/Sibling Alert
:OX -Shhh! It's a secret
CTN -Can't talk now
Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678 if you are aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI if your child has received pornography via the Internet.