With children becoming increasingly internet savvy, parents must become educated about kids' chat rooms and online communities. According to Guard Child, there are more than 50,000 child predators online at any given time. What's even more shocking, 20 percent of teen internet users have been contacted to meet for sex. These scary statistics make it absolutely vital for parents to monitor their child's online activity.
Free and Safe Chat Room for Kids
Obviously, you want your kids to have the freedom to use their computers, tablets, and mobile devices and make healthy connections with other kids their age outside of school, church, or your neighborhood. The following free and safe chat rooms will let your kids have online relationships and help ensure their safety.
Kidz World cautions kids and parents up front never to share personal information online. They also have strict rules on repeating requests and saying crude or inappropriate things while chatting. The site has an option to "ignore" another person who is bothering your child. There are chat monitors online at all times to keep your kid safe while he talks to friends across the world. While parents say this is better for 14 and over, Common Sense states this website works best for those that are 11 and up.
iTwixie is a powerful chat and web community designed to empower girls. Not only can kids discuss books and movies, but they can create their own blog. The site monitors all interactions and immediately kicks a user off for being inappropriate. This includes asking your child for personal information, using bad words, and being rude. Girls can even win prizes and awards. It was also listed by Step into Social Media Arena! among safe social sites for kids under 13.
Chat Avenue: Kids Chat
This free chat site for kids does not require registration, and all the chats are moderated. Nicknames, profanity, or inappropriate conversation are grounds for becoming banned. Additionally, the chat room cooperates with law enforcement agencies. This is a strictly chat site; it does not include cameras or webcams. The rooms are also moderated by age. This site also encourages parent involvement in chatting.
Listed as one of the best chats for kids by The Active Family, 321 chat offers a range of chat topics for kids from 13 to 16. A nice general chat room, this service offers moderators and chat rooms dedicated for specific areas like girls, boys, bullying, school issues, etc. Teens can also join the teen chat and gay teen chat to talk with like-minded individuals. The site warns not to give out personal information and provides a warning for parents. It also provides kids with the top 4 safety tips to chatting.
One of the largest chat rooms designed specifically for kids, this site makes kids agree to a user agreement before entering. Additionally, they provide 17 different chat rules that kids must follow like not giving out personal information, not being disruptive, and how the chat might be monitored by law enforcement in addition to moderators. Designed for 13 to 19-year-old kids, the site also encourages parental involvement and finishing homework before chatting.
Dangers of Kids' Chat Rooms
Parents have good reason to be concerned about their kids' safe computer use. The internet brings the entire world to kids' fingertips, including things many parents prefer they not encounter.
Exposure to Inappropriate Content
The internet is full of quality, educational content. However, there are a large number of sexually explicit images, articles, and ads. With a few clicks of a mouse, kids can get an education their parents never dreamed of! What's more, many online communities popular with tweens and teens are hotbeds of sexual innuendos, propositions, and suggestive photos. An innocent youngster can quickly find his email box full of lewd offers and advances.
Predators and Pedophiles
Even more frightening is the existence of pedophiles and predators online. It is surprisingly easy to create a whole new identity online. Predators can become a 12-year-old girl or a 16-year-old boy with a few keystrokes. Over time, the kids begin telling their new friends all sorts of personal information. The adults step in and become confidantes, offering comfort and building trust. In the meantime, they are collecting data. A predator may invite a kid to meet in real life or otherwise pursue a child online.
Bullies in Kids' Chat Rooms
There are people, both young and old, who thrive on creating turmoil. They antagonize other chat room visitors, trying to force a heated debate. Sometimes these bullies can be downright vicious. They hurl insults, innuendos, and threats. This brand of bully can be just as malicious as the playground variety and just as damaging to your child's self-esteem.
With all of the dangers online, many experts agree that kids under the age of 12 should not use chat rooms at all. Those 12 and older can be allowed access to kids' chat rooms, with appropriate safety precautions.
Supervised Computer Use
This is the most important precaution. Never allow young children to use the internet unsupervised. Sit with your children and discuss what they see. Talk about what is appropriate, what is inappropriate, and why. Teach your kids to filter what they see and hear through their own morals and values. Also guide them in the proper way to respond to inappropriate messages; they can either leave the chat room or ignore the poster. Responding to the messages only serves to instigate further contact. Sit with your children as they set up user names, email addresses, passwords, and profiles. Explain what information they are free to divulge and what to withhold.
Protect Personal Information
The anonymous nature of the internet gives kids and teens a false sense of security. Chatters often give out personal information without even realizing it. A determined predator can easily find out your child's location by using seemingly innocuous clues. Teach your children to avoid giving any specific information. It is vital that chatters censor every word they type. Instruct your children to never mention their:
- Real name
- Parents' or siblings' names
- School or teachers' names
- Street, address, or hometown
When looking for a quality online chat room for your teen, there are other things that you might want to look for. These include:
- Look for moderated (supervised) children's chat rooms.
- Look for age-appropriate chat rooms.
- Never download pictures or email attachments sent from chat room participants.
- Never allow children to upload pictures of themselves onto chat room profiles.
- Monitor your child's chat account and e-mail.
- Have your child use a safe nickname rather than his or her real name.
- Teach your child how to save chat logs to have a record of any questionable interactions.
- Teach your children that they should, under no circumstances, arrange to meet anyone from an online chat room.
- Limit internet chat room usage.
- Avoid personal or private chats.
Parental controls are software programs designed to limit children's activities on the internet. They are supposed to block pornographic sites and other inappropriate material. Other programs are designed to restrict computer use at certain times. Keep in mind that parental controls are no substitute for parental supervision. Software is not infallible, and many kids and teens have learned to outsmart the system. Some popular parental controls include:
- Net Nanny protects your child from accidentally accessing pornography, keeps predators away from them while they are online, and monitors for cyberbullying. The service has won several industry awards and costs $40 per month.
- Sentry PC allows you to control games, apps, and websites that your child is allowed to see and restricts those you want her to stay away from. You can also set up time limits that the system enforces for you and you're able to get online at any time to see what your child is up to. The cost is $60 and can be installed on up to three computers.
- Kids Watch lets you block websites, enforce time limits and is simple to set up. The program will also send you alerts regarding your child's activity online. The plan starts at $30.
- K9 Web Protection lets parents block websites, shows only safe sites after an engine search, sets time limits, and enforces an internet filter. The best part: the program is free for use in your home.
Making Chat Rooms Fun for Your Kids
You don't want your kids to be terrified of every other user in a chat room, but it's important to give them a brief rundown on the things they need to be on the lookout for. Keep the lines of communication open by trusting your child to chat without hanging over his shoulder. This way he'll be more likely to come to you if something happens that worries him. Revisit the rules often and don't be afraid to monitor your child's online activity if you suspect something inappropriate is going on. By staying on top of things, your child can see a chat room as an opportunity to make friends, instead of a place that's scary and full of lurking predators. At the same time, you'll be less concerned that your child is somewhere unsafe.