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, at least 725,000 kids 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, and make healthy connections with other kids their age, outside 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, saying crude or inappropriate things while chatting and have 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.
- KidsCom allows your child to build worlds and play interactive games with other kids. This 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.
- Kids Online has strict security measures in place that forbids sharing of personal information, repeating the same things over and over, bothering other users and using bad words. Kids can safely connect with other kids while moderators keep a close eye on all interactions.
Dangers of Kids' Chat Rooms
Parents have good reason to be concerned about their kids' 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 innuendo, 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, innuendo, 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 is being seen. 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
- 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 as well. The service has won several industry awards and costs $39.99 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 $49.95 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 costs $49.95 and comes with a free 15-day trial.
- K9 Web Protection lets parents block websites, shows only safe site after an engine search, sets time limits and enforces an Internet filter. The best part: the program is free for use in your home. It costs $18.95 per month to install on organization computers, such as those at a school or library.
More About Internet Safety
- NetSmartz offers tips, games, and articles, all designed to teach kids and teens how to stay safe on the Internet.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation offers safety tips geared for kids as well as plenty of information for parents.
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.