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.
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.
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 !
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 http://www.100hot.com/chatIf 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 http://www.capitalfm.com 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.
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.
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.
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
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 http://www.getnetwise.org and http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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 http://www.inhope.orgThe Internet Watch Foundation's first priority is child pornography so if you see something which you believe to be illegal contact them through http://www.iwf.org.uk 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 http://www.childnet-int.org which includes a comprehensive list of other organisations which are concerned about Internet safety.
The following websites have information about Internet safety.
Watch Foundation (IWF)
- Safe Use of the Internet (an EU Awareness Project)
Action for Children (UK)
for Media Education (CME)
School Boards for Education - safe & smart
website webwise site
Advisory Group on the Internet (PAGI)
Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT)
Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Committee on rights of the child
International Police Organisation (INTERPOL)
Vienna Conference on Combating Child Pornography on the Internet
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Content Rating Association (ICRA)
Child Welfare Organisations
Rights Information Network (CRIN)
Centre for Missing and Exploited Children
Action for Children (UK)