What is Instant Messaging?
Instant Messaging (often abbreviated IM) is a form of communication similar to emailing. The difference is that instant messaging is in real time; it's just like being in a chat room with only one other person. Most people IM people they know in real life rather than strangers, so instant messaging has a reputation for being somewhat safer than chatting.
IM has become very popular because it is free and easy to use.
Concerns for Parents
- Like any form of online communication, IM may allow your child to be in contact with online predators and cyberbullies.
- IM and chatting can become very addicting. Some kids have a hard time pulling themselves away from the screen and experiencing social interaction outside of a cyber context.
- It's easier to slip into unkind or critical conversations online. Often, people will say things they'd never dream of saying in real life. This can lead to cyberbullying and flame wars.
- Peer-to-peer file sharing that occurs over IM can infect your computer with viruses, worms, Trojan horses, or other types of malware.
- When using IM, emoticons and acronyms are commonly used. While some are harmless, others could mean more than meets the eye. See the Common Acronym List for a list of some commonly used acronyms.
- Many IM programs allow the use of webcams for video chat. This could increase the risk for cyberbullying. Even worse, some online predators have been known to use webcams for child pornography.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
- Go over the rules of Netiquette with your kids. Many cyberbullying incidents and flame wars begin as children fail to remember that screen names represent human beings with feelings.
- Be sure your kids understand the risks associated with any kind of online file sharing. Unless you are 100% sure who the file is from and know what it contains, you should never open or download any files you find online or that another web user tries to give you.
Where Can I Learn More?
Read Microsoft.com's Top 10 Tips for Safe IM.
The Media Awareness Network has put together this excellent article about IM and its associated risks.