What is a Chat Room?
A chat room is an interactive online forum that allows real-time communication in which messages appear almost instantly on the computer monitors of the other chat participants. Many chat rooms are created for Internet users with similar interests to come together and talk about what they have in common. Other chat rooms may be specifically geared towards finding friends or romantic partners online.
Chat rooms can be used for various purposes, both harmless and harmful. However, chat rooms are generally considered dangerous, particularly for children. A somewhat safer alternative to chat rooms is instant messaging.
Concerns for Parents
- Chat rooms are a common place for online predators to hang out and wait for a child who is willing to talk. It's easy for a person to hide behind a screen name in a chat room and lie in order to get what they want from kids and teens.
- Many chat rooms for kids and teens are monitored or moderated, which means that someone is keeping tabs on what is being said and cleaning up inappropriate content. However, many chat rooms have no monitoring whatsoever. The chat rooms your child go to may be teeming with sexually explicit conversation and/or foul language.
- Children can become overly-involved with buddies online and start to disconnect from the real world. Some kids and teens get to the point that they are truly addicted to the Internet.
- Chat rooms are often a place where flame wars and cyberbullying issues begin.
- Some chat rooms do not protect your privacy. For example, your location might be revealed while using the service.
- Links are not pre-filtered in chat rooms, and may link to inappropriate or dangerous content.
- Video chat rooms use webcams, allowing you to see video of the person you're talking to. While these can be helpful in some situations, predators often ask children to do things on camera, starting small but progressing until the predator has copies of child pornography.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
- Look at the benefits your child will gain from chatting versus the potential risks. If you decide to allow your child to chat, be sure you are aware of which chat rooms your child participates in. Visit them frequently and be aware of what kind of conversation happens there.
- Talk to your child about whom he or she speaks with online. Keeping communication lines open is critical!
- Be sure your child has picked a safe username.
- Be sure that your child isn't giving out personal information--such as age, location, email address, or phone number--in a chat room. Anything your child posts can be seen (and misused) by anyone in a chat room.
- Teach your child the importance of being assertive online. Your child should never feel obligated to stay in a conversation that makes him or her feel uncomfortable. Be sure that your child understands the importance of logging out of a chat room any time another web user is rude, threatening, or sexually suggestive.
- Keep your family computer in an open, trafficked area so that the temptation to chat about inappropriate subjects is taken away.
- Be sure your child understands and follows the rules of Netiquette. Doing so will prevent involvement in cyberbullying or flaming.
Where Can I Learn More?
Microsoft.com also offers this page on chat room and instant messaging safety for kids and teens.