25 Safety Tips for Using Chat Room – Family and Kids

by on March 25th, 2010

Chat rooms, where many people gather for live interaction, are among the riskiest places on the internet – where kids are most likely to “talk” with strangers. Chatting has become one of the most popular uses of the Internet by everyone. There are many chat programs available free for the downloading and by visiting chat rooms, kids have the chance to meet and form friendships with children from all around the world. As fun as it sounds, it can also be dangerous. You can help make chatting safer for your children by being aware of the dangers. Always know what your child is doing when he or she is using the Internet. You can set parental controls to help make sure they don’t get into web sites intended for adults, but chat rooms are a different matter. Usually all you need to get into a chat room is an Internet connection, the chat program, and an identifying nickname. Some chat rooms are designed especially for children, but others are adult oriented and should never be visited by anyone under the age of 18. Here are a few guidelines to make sure that your child’s chat experience is a safe one:

  • Remember that what you say in a chat room or instant messaging session is live – you can’t take it back or delete it later.
  • Choose a nickname that’s not sexually suggestive and doesn’t give away your real name.
  • If someone says or does something creepy, block them and don’t respond
  • Just sign out if the topic turns to sex. That can often lead somewhere you don’t want to go.
  • Position the computer in your main living space and make sure the monitor faces OUTWARD into the room so there is no secrecy. This is the single MOST valuable thing you can do for your child’s health and safety online.
  • Take an active interest in your child’s activity online. Do NOT use the Internet as a babysitter! Learn to surf the Web and chat online yourself so you understand what it is that your child is doing. If you don’t know how to chat online, ask your child to teach you!
  • Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want the public to know – this includes your full name, your address, phone number or other personal information.
  • Don’t reveal your actual location or when and where you plan to hang out.
  • Work as a team to set boundaries. Discuss with your child exactly what is OK and what is not OK regarding what kind of Web sites are appropriate for them to visit, which chat rooms to visit and what kinds of things to talk about there. Set logical consequences for when your child disregards your rules (like grounded from the Internet for 1 week), but do NOT threaten to ban the Internet forever.
  • Stress to your child that they need to tell you if they get any weird or upsetting messages while chatting, and that you will not be angry with them nor will you ban the Internet as a result. Make it clear to the child that you understand that the child cannot control what other people say to him or her and that they are not to blame if this happens.
  • Set strict time limits for Internet chat use and enforce them. Internet addiction is a real thing!
  • Don’t get together with someone you meet in a chat room. If you must, meet in a public place and bring along some friends.
  • Be on guard if someone begins to ask your child personal questions, or if they start to make your child uncomfortable in any way. If this happens, have your child say goodbye and exit the chat room. It might be a good idea to use a different nickname should they decide to chat again in that same room later on. It’s important to know that even though a different nickname is being used, it’s still possible to track someone through their IP, or Internet address. Supervise any return visits to a chat room where your child has been approached by someone who seemed to be too interested in them. Should that same person begin speaking with your child again, tell the moderator.
  • Make it clear to your child that people in chat rooms are ALWAYS strangers, no matter how often they chat to them, and no matter how well they think they know them, and that while they may be good or bad people, they are still strangers. Your child should therefore not always believe everything people say in chat rooms.
  • Make sure your child understands that they are never to tell a person online their real name, their school, their phone number or where they live.
  • Do not permit your child to be left alone in cyberspace for long periods of time – this is when they are most vulnerable. Make sure that their chat time occurs when YOU are around in the house so that you can check in on them regularly.
  • Be sure to stress to your child that they are to behave politely and respectfully at all times while chatting online with strangers or sending email to friends.
  • Don’t panic! No one can harm your child through the Internet as long as your child follows your rules.
  • Look for a chat room that has a moderator. On mIRC, moderators are called Ops, or channel operators. These folks are in charge of the room or channel and are responsible for seeing that everyone in the chat room follows the rules and behaves accordingly. Rules usually state that no swearing or cursing is allowed, nor will ‘flaming’ of others will be tolerated. Find out from the moderator what the rules are and see to it that your child follows them. Breaking of the rules can result in being banned from the chat room or in being restricted in participation. (Note: ‘Flaming’ is when someone says mean or ugly things to another, or tries to fight in the chat room.)
  • Explain the very real danger of cyber predators to your children. Stress that your child is never, ever to give out his or her real name to anyone, regardless of how nice that person may seem to be. The fewer personal details your child shares, the better. No matter how pleasant or sincere a person may appear in chat, the simple truth is that you have no way of knowing that they are who they claim to be. Peek over your child’s shoulder while they are chatting, especially if they are being asked a lot of questions. Help your child respond in a safe manner, or encourage them to leave that chat room and find another one.
  • Be aware that new viruses are being developed all the time and some of them contain what are usually considered to be safe extensions. It’s a good idea to simply refuse to accept any files from anyone, especially if it’s a person you are not familiar with. Some chat programs come with options that can be set to refuse any file transfers. Check to see what your child’s chat program has to offer and set it up accordingly.
  • Personal profiles are one way predators find children. Don’t let your child put their real name, sex, age, school, home address, phone number or any personal information in their profile. Their nickname and a few fun things, such as their favorite color or rock band, will suffice.
  • Instant messages or private messages of any kind should be monitored carefully. Chat room moderators can’t see what’s going on in private conversations and won’t notice if your child is getting into a dangerous situation. Encourage your child to stay in the chat room with all the other kids instead of allowing them to be pulled aside and spoken with privately. Though it may seem flattering, it can be unsafe. Some people use private messages to send porn pictures or sexual content to children. Discourage your child from accepting private messages.
  • Be alert to the danger of computer viruses. These files can be sent via private message. Teach your child not to accept any files, and if they do accidentally receive one, never to open it. Files with the extensions .exe, .ini., .dll and sometimes .jpeg can all contain harmful scripts that can damage or cripple your computer. Should your child accept a file like this, delete it unopened and inform the room moderator or channel operator.
  • By following these common sense rules and carefully monitoring your child’s online activities, you can help insure that the time they spend chatting is a safe and fun experience. Should they encounter any problems, don’t hesitate to tell the room’s moderator, or to report the person causing the problems to authorities. When it comes to the safety of your children, you can never be too cautious.

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