The Internet brings the world into our living rooms - the good and the not so good. How then should parents and carers best protect their children and ensure that they are using the Internet and chat rooms safely ?

It can be a tough job bringing up kids today. Having to keep them safe on the road, making sure they aren't bullied in the playground, helping them to make wise decisions. Then, just when you thought that your house was a safe place for your kids, along comes the Internet !

The Internet is like bringing a city into your living room and as a parent there are lots of places in a city where you wouldn't want your children to go ! You therefore need to "take the virtual trip together" just as you would in an offline world and help your children stick to the positive. This means you doing some homework and understanding the issues - especially how Internet Chat works and how your children are using it.

Internet parenting skills are very similar to other parenting skills, indeed helping children to be smart online will help them to remember the "stranger danger" rules and be alert to the dangers in the outside world.


Many adults can feel intimidated in using the Internet and are baffled by some of the terms and technology, especially about Internet Chat. While it is true that many children take to the Internet quicker than adults, children still need parental advice and protection. It is vital that you understand the issues and the simple safety steps you can take to help keep children safe. Don't put it off ! You don't need to know everything about the Internet and all the technical details - after all you can teach your children the importance of wearing a seat belt in a car without understanding how the car engine works!

On this site you can learn about Chat, why it is popular with teenagers and what you should be doing to ensure that your children keep safe online.

A teenage Internet chat room is like a school playground with lots of kids talking to each other in groups or just one-to-one chatting about last night's football match, answers to homework, or the latest fashion etc. However, unlike a physical playground, the chatting takes place with participants linked to the same computer (or server) and allows people to have live conversations with people from all over the world. Whatever you type in a chat room appears instantly as a real-time conversation on the screen for everyone else on the channel to see. All the people that are taking part are listed with their nick name or screen name to the right-hand side of the chat. Entering a chat room is kind of like eavesdropping on a school playground: there may be more than one conversation going on at once or one big shouting match !

There are 2 types of Chat services, Internet Relay Chat, (or IRC for short) and individual web page Chat rooms. IRC is the most popular but in order to Chat on IRC, you must download special software to your computer. One of the most popular is called mIRC from However, IRC is not something that you should just dive into without first doing your homework. You could feel very lost if you do not know the basic rules. Just like CB radio IRC has its own dialect. One of the best online guides to how IRC works can be found on the mIRC website

Chat is also available on individual web pages which are popular because it is so easy to use although not as instant. You don't need to download special software for web-based chat. For a list of web Chat channels see

If you haven't visited a Chat room before why not start by visiting a web-based Chat room such as Capital Radio's Chatroom at and follow the simple instructions to join by choosing a password and nickname and then enter. In a few minutes you will see the Chatappear as text on the Chat screen and should see your nickname appear in the guest list.

Note how easy it is to join and how on this site you are not asked to verify your age or sign up to a code of conduct. Furthermore there are no warnings to young people about what they should not disclose and no independent moderator overseeing the chat.

Those parents who have bought their teenagers mobile telephones will know just how much children love to chat ! Text messaging on mobiles is now very popular. However when children chat in the playground, on the street corner or on their mobiles they generally know who they are talking to - not so with Internet Chat !

When you enter a chat room you have to give an alias or nickname and you can pretend to be anyone you like. In fact adopting a new persona is part of the fun for many users. Behind a mask you can confront people, flirt or tell jokes and by using the language of chat escape into another world.

Teenagers love the immediacy of Chat and the fact that it is very much a private world one which their parents know little of and will never enter. Indeed to those parents who have spent time in a Chat room, a great deal of the conversation appears to be inane and cryptic. Again this makes young people feel that they are different and have their own private world.

In the case of the Smith family, the parents knew a lot about computers, however they had not visited a Chat room and did not realise that their daughter was communicating with strangers - one of whom sadly ended up abusing her.

Apart from the danger of young people become addicted and immersed in Chat and losing out on developing their social skills, finishing their homework or playing face-to-face with other children, the real danger of young people using Chat rooms is in being in-touch with someone who would wish to cultivate a relationship with them in order to contact them offline.

When your children are in a Chat area they are in a very public "place". They don't necessarily know the true identity of anyone they are talking to in the Chat room. Those who would wish to harm children can prey on those in Chat rooms who appear to be left out or lonely. They can pretend to be supportive and sympathetic and gain the trust of the young person by being willing to "listen" to their problems and provide friendship. Increasingly there are Chat rooms which use audio, which means if you have the right hardware (speakers and microphones) you can talk to those in Chat rooms. This is clearly an added dimension and Childnet would recommend that parents discourage children from using headphones whilst using the computer as they may be listening in private to inappropriate conversations.

Childnet is aware of very many stories from all over the world - see Global Scene section - which show that the Smith's story is not a one-off incident. For every child who has been abused there may have been very many others who were close to being hurt.

Parents or carers can often be caught out by kids when it comes to computers. Whilst many have just become proficient at using a mouse, some watch in amazement at their kids' ability to grasp the more complex aspects of these new systems. Young people love technology and Chat offers children an exciting opportunity not simply to view the world passively, but the chance to interact and participate with other children, schools, charity projects and celebrities.

There is no way we can (or should) censor the Net, but we must make sure that when technology can be used to harm children we as parents do our part. Here are 7 key steps you should take.

Keep the computer in a family room not locked away in a bedroom and spend time surfing together with your children and learn from them how the Internet works.

There are some good online guides written for parents which explain how the Internet works and how to get the best out of using it with your children. See and

Discussing the potential dangers with your children needs care and sensitivity and involves helping them to see the dangers for themselves. Most children will respond more positively if you encourage them to be smart or "cool" on the Internet rather than giving them a list of "Thou Shalt Nots"

Encourage your children to visit this site and make sure you go through the CHAT TIPS with them

Just in the same way as you are wary of a stranger knocking on your door make sure your children remember "stranger danger" in Chat rooms and that they never reveal any personal details about themselves, school or family, (address, telephone numbers, photographs etc). Make sure they don't use your credit card number without permission.
Consider printing out the Smith's story as told from this site for them to read on their own and go through the CHAT TIPS with them.

Don't allow your children to meet anyone they have contacted via the Internet without you going with them. Be especially careful about your children using Chat rooms unsupervised - especially those which are not moderated.

You are the best person to know whether your child is mature enough to use un moderated chat rooms. However be careful and make sure your children know the dangers and agree with you to stick to the CHAT Tips.

Take an interest in the way your kids are using the Internet and encourage them to visit sites that reflect their interest Just as you look out for good TV programmes for children, take the time to find the best and most useful websites and chat rooms for you and your family.

Childnet has produced a special directory called Launchsite which includes 50 excellent online projects which are safe for children. The Childnet's Awards site also profiles inspirational ways in which children are using the Internet for good. See how to evaluate a good chatroom.

You can buy software which can help you block sites you may not wish your children to be exposed to eg. sexually explicit material, hate and violence sites, alcohol and gambling. Software can also help you monitor the time your child spends on the computer and material they have been viewing as well as block outgoing and incoming information.

Remember such software is no substitute for good parental involvement and are not 100% effective.
See Filters and Rating Guide
And getnetwise

If you child tells you that they are being harassed by someone they think is an adult in a chat room and is wanting to meet them off line, you should discuss this fully with your child and contact your local police immediately.

Sometimes it is very difficult for a child to talk about inappropriate online or offline contact. Professional organisations have specialist Child-welfare staff (see the Links & Resources page in this section of the website).

If you feel that your child would rather talk to a Counsellor in private ring Childline on 0800 1111.

If you have experience of the danger of Chat rooms, Childnet would be keen to hear from you contact

If you live in the UK and come across harmful or illegal material on the Internet you can report it to the Internet Watch Foundation. Other hotlines are listed on

The Internet Watch Foundation's first priority is child pornography so if you see something which you believe to be illegal contact them through If you are not sure whether the content is illegal do not worry. Report it and let the Foundation make an assessment of what they should act on. However, do not send them a report on the sole basis that you personally find something offensive. IWF is concerned with the law, not personal taste or morality. It can only act on material that could be prosecuted under UK legislation.

This site has been written and produced by Childnet International a registered charity. Full details about Childnet is available from which includes a comprehensive list of other organisations which are concerned about Internet safety.

The following websites have information about Internet safety.

Internet Awareness


Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

Netaware - Safe Use of the Internet (an EU Awareness Project)

Disney Safe Surfing

Media Awareness Network (Canada)

NCH Action for Children (UK)

Centre for Media Education (CME)

National School Boards for Education - safe & smart

BBC website webwise site

Netalert (Australia)


Parents Advisory Group on the Internet (PAGI)

International Bodies

European Union

End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT)

United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UN Committee on rights of the child

The International Police Organisation (INTERPOL)

The Vienna Conference on Combating Child Pornography on the Internet

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

Internet Organisations

Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA)

The Bertelsmann Foundation


Net Mom


Child Welfare Organisations

Child Rights Information Network (CRIN)

National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children

Children's Partnership

NCH Action for Children (UK)


Save the Children


Children's Society


Radda Barnen (Save the Children Sweden)


United Kingdom
Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)



For other International hotlines see INHOPE Association