|On the Internet there are several venues where kids can interact with other kids from all over the world, from different cultures, with different points of view on a plethora of topics. From ideology, to sociology, to politics, kids can learn first hand what other people think and feel, and why. Chat is one, and the most popular, of these venues. |
What better place for kids to gain direct experience with other customs and cultures than with direct interaction? The only way for a youth to gain such experience before the advent of the Internet was through travel, so only the affluent, or missionaries, or other such fortunates were afforded this type of education.
This is also an excellent opportunity for us, as parents, to interact with our kids in a very rewarding and enriching way. We have an opportunity to assist our kids in the formation of their own morals and values based on discussions of the subjects and perceptions they are gathering from their exposure to others through these venues.
Presenting an Informed Policy
Our first responsibility to our kids who have access to the Internet is to provide them with an informed understanding of the dangers that they may encounter through their activities, through the choices they make, and through how they elect to utilize this wonderful tool of real time communication.
Explain to them the positive benefits that can be reaped through appropriate use, and the opposing trouble they could bring on themselves through inappropriate use of their time online.
Establish a clear and concise policy for acceptable use. Set out the guidelines that you expect them to follow for their own safety, and then keep track of what they are actually doing.
In the last article of this series we presented some good beginning guidelines. You will find these guidelines in several places on the Internet, though they vary a little from site to site.
What are the dangers?
Predators and pedophiles are the first thing we think about when we consider dangers for our kids in chat and rightly so. There are an amazing number of incidents that range from mild (relatively) to severe as a result of kids running into these characters in chat rooms. The FBI says that there is at least one adult predator that crosses State lines every day in order to meet with a minor they have met on the Internet! Additionally, there are more child victims than there are adult victims.
Kids Chat rooms can be a danger. Predators hang out in them and use a number of different guises and routines to gain the confidence of these unsuspecting youths. They will use anything from flattery to compassion to bribery to accomplish this.
One common situation to be aware of is kids going into kids chat rooms with problems. It is one thing to, after knowing another kid for a while, discuss things that are troubling them in a more private venue than open chat (even this can lead to trouble), but talking about even little things that are troubling them in open chat is just asking for trouble.
This is one of the things a predator watches for. Even little problems will set a predator on their course. They are polished, smooth, and they know how to promote a little thing into a very big offense in the minds of their targets. And along with the escalation of the problem also comes a charming compassion and seemingly benevolent, selfless devotion of time and energy being “available to talk” about the problems this poor kid is having to deal with.
This is one way that it begins. Then there is flattery. Any area in which they can compliment, flatter, and influence kids in is what they are looking for. Again remember, the predator is polished and smooth. The first thing they will look for is an area of insecurity, statements of self-deprecation. This is a point of leverage.
Kids are generally insecure to begin with and always looking for positive affirmation about themselves. Someone to tell them, “You’re right”, or, “you’re doing the right thing”, or, “you’re really mature”. Anything that helps them with self esteem. If someone comes along and provides them with these things, in many cases, they can easily win the child over and become a major influence, trusted by the child but deadly as poison.
Make it a point to discuss with your kids what can happen, what to watch for. Let them know how to watch for anything out of the ordinary. Help them understand that not all of the kids he/she is talking to are necessarily kids at all. And if they are ever mislead by anyone who reveals that he/she is actually an adult, but had a good reason for the masquerade, do not buy it! The only people that really have a good reason for masquerading, as a child in a chat room, is law enforcement personnel.
Moderated chat is one excellent way to deal with these potential troubles. There are many chat systems that have moderators that remain in the chat rooms and watch the conversations and behaviors of the participants. These moderators, trained to know warning signs and familiar with the chat operators acceptable use policy, have the ability to terminate chat connections if they notice any behavior that causes suspicion, as well as instructions to halt other behavior deemed inappropriate.
It is difficult to find moderated teen chat areas, but what about steering your teen toward becoming a moderator? Many of the chat facilities accept teen volunteers as moderators and this can turn your teens online time into a positive and rewarding experience for them.
More than Predators in Kids’ Chat Rooms
The dangers that exist for kids are more than Predators in kids chat rooms. There is also the problem of kids going to adult chat rooms. Yes there are predators there too, but we have already discussed them and they are no different here.
When Parents don’t monitor kids’ use of the Internet, there is frequently an inordinate attraction for them to go into adult chat areas. This exposes them to a few different “undesirable” things, one of which is porn spammers.
Pornography is one of the most profitable businesses on the net, also one of the most competitive. Because it is so competitive, these purveyors of flesh resort to any and all means of promotion including posting messages and links in open chat. If you monitor some adult chat rooms you can see “XXX Hard Core …. PICS in Profile Click here! XXX” scrolling up the screen. If your child or teen is in a room like this, they are now one click away from some pretty explicit images.
Another problem is simply the behavior of some of the adults. Adults in chat rooms are operating under an alias that seems to give them some sort of freedom to unabashedly, behave like life is an orgy.
Most by now have heard the term “Cyber” as it relates to chat. For those who haven’t, the term is used to define sexual activity through the keyboard. Cybersex, to complete the term, is engaged in on a regular basis on the Internet these days by an enormous number of people. This is tantamount to creating a real time, two party, pornographic paperback on screen.
Most of the time two adults will go off into a private connection for this to take place, but it also seems that much of their public chat room time is spent in overly enamorous typing, trying to see how close they can come to “cybering” without being “booted” from the room.
If your child should come into one of these rooms they become exposed to all of the above. The temptation may get the best of them to click on one of those XXX links or to lie about their age and become involved in these other cyber activities. This is like your child sneaking into an X-rated movie or a nude night club.
Another rarely discussed subject, is the emotional damage that can result from time in the wrong areas of chat. This applies to adults as well as kids, but the next article in this series will address the adult issues.
Kids can be exposed to all manner of activity as we just saw above and this can have a profound impact on them. Impact that can alter their thinking and judgment in very real ways affecting their offline lives.
It is a known fact that kids are impressionable and they want to be “The Bomb” in their relationships with others. Exposure to some of today’s youth values can be as damaging as exposure to the adult areas. Case in point is the phenomenon of kids going into their schools with guns and creating real life disasters. Some of these occurrences have been at least partially attributed to Internet communications fanning the flames of misguided thoughts.
What is to be Done?
There is an abundance of good material, topics and communications that can be realized on the Internet. It is our responsibility as parents to present the positive and encourage our kids toward productive behaviors and activities.
It is important that we, as parents, remain involved with what our kids are doing with their time online. Staying in touch with where they visit, who they talk to, and what they are learning.
If you are in a situation where you cannot find the time to monitor or just sit and talk frequently about what is going on in the online lives of your kids, at least get yourself one of the tracking programs that will allow you to see where your kids have been, what they have talking about, and who they have been talking to (we offer an evaluation of some of these products on our website). This will alert you to any obviously objectionable problems that you need to address with your kids.
Much evaluation of these programs has been done and the general consensus is that none of them are foolproof, so combining the use of these programs with as much supervision as possible is the best method of protecting your position on what your kids are doing with their on-line time. No computer program can replace the relationship that you have with your children.
Remember, this new world of cyberspace can also be a very valuable relationship builder between you and your children. Having an additional opportunity to relate to them in something they have an interest in. A place where you can offer guidance while listening to the needs and concerns of your kids.
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