Chat rooms are a popular way of communicating on the Internet, especially for young people. Chat rooms provide an opportunity for people all over the world to come together and chat on a variety of topics in real-time. Typically, these chat rooms are text-based and chatters are identified by user IDs or screen names (e.g., In2CheerForFun2), and they can "talk" to each other by simply typing in what they want to say. Whatever they type appears on the screen to everyone who is participating in the chat room.
There are chat experiences available for kids who have just learned to read and write to much older teens getting ready to graduate from high school. There are also chat rooms for adults. The different chat experiences offer different levels of user protection and are outlined here:
Chatters are limited to chatting with a predefined list of messages and responses.
Chatters can type their own messages and responses, but the messages are filtered through a list of pre-approved list of words and phrases. In this form of chat, phone numbers and other personal information such as proper names and addresses are blocked.
Free Form, Un-moderated
Chatters can freely type any terms or phrases. There is often a report abuse button to notify the ISP of inappropriate behavior.
Chat Safety Tips for Kids
▪ Make certain your child is chatting in an age-appropriate environment. Look at the acceptable age of use. For younger kids, it's highly recommended that they participate in a heavily controlled environment such as predefined or filtered chat. As they get a bit older, a free form moderated chat environment may be best. It is really up to you based on your comfort level as well as your child's age and maturity.
▪ Keep an eye on your child when they are chatting. Kids have their own chat lingo using acronyms and emoticons, or visual feelings, that you should become familiar with. To help you get started, here are a few examples:
QT - Cutie
POS - Parents Looking Over Shoulder
ROFL - Rolling On the Floor Laughing
: ) Happy
: ( Sad
▪Talk to your child about sharing personal information with people they don't know. Sometimes it's easy for kids to develop a friendship with someone that they have chatted with regularly which may give way to sharing information that should remain private such as their full name, address, school and other personal information. Remember, unless it is someone your child knows in the real world, they really don't know them.
▪ Let them know that meeting online friends in person is really not a good idea. They may talk to them on a regular basis, but they really don't know who is behind the user ID or screen name. If they do want to meet an online friend in real life make sure that you or another trusted adult goes along and that you meet in a public place like a mall or restaurant.
▪ Remind them that the Internet has a permanent memory. Any information that is shared online will live on forever. If they share a picture of themselves with another chatter, they no longer have control of where that picture is posted publicly, who it is shared with privately or how it is manipulated.
▪ Explain the importance of taking control of their chat experience. Most chats have features to block or ignore other chatters and some provide a report abuse mechanism to notify the service provider of potential abuse. Most importantly, let your child know that if something is said in a chat room that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should stop chatting and tell you or another trusted adult.
▪ Make certain your child's screen name or user ID is appropriate. Screen names and user IDs convey a message just like vanity license plates on cars. Kids should not portray themselves in a risqué manner or in a way that reveals too much information about them (e.g., KLong12inWincVA). Both of these things may draw the attention of unsavory individuals.
John Shehan of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children talks about how parents can keep kids safe from online predators: