Chat sites and your children

By Jonathan Stromberg

In the article 'The Internet and your children' your attention was drawn to the possible dangers of chat sites. In this article I would like to expand further and give more detailed advice on this subject.
There have been many cases in recent history of children and adolescents getting into trouble after chatting with what turned out to be less than desirable people. The victims of these people come from all backgrounds, creeds and colors, and often the results are disastrous. Here are just a few examples from the news in the USA in 2004:

An Alabama man is behind bars, charged with raping a young Louisville girl. Police say the man met the 12-year-old girl over the Internet on a chat site, then drove to Louisville and took her to an area motel. Police say this should be a wake-up call for parents to do all they can to prevent Internet predators from reaching their children.
A 16-year-old Winnipeg girl was allegedly lured from her home by a man she met on the Internet who drugged her, drove her outside city limits, and then videotaped himself sexually assaulting her.
Apparently this girl never met this man before talking to him online. He had lured her into meeting him then he drugged her and taped himself sexually assaulting her. She will have problematic memories of that moment for the rest of her life and the worst part is that it could have been avoided.

Chloe Michaels was only 11 years old when she was lured into a relationship by a man though Internet chat. After months of exchanging messages in an Internet chat room he finally managed to meet and court her. Chloe first started going into Internet chat rooms after her mother Cathy, a teacher, bought a computer to help with her homework. Each evening when she'd finished her schoolwork she would then log on to chat. Eventually their relationship came to a boil; he dumped her, terrified, distraught, and pregnant.

A 21-year-old Durham man is in Randolph County Jail facing 13 sex crime charges, including rape, stemming from the results of an alleged meeting arranged via the Internet with a 12-year-old Asheboro girl at a motel in the city.
This kind of headline is all too common but the detective afterwards made a very strong statement;
"The contact between the man and the girl had been going on for several months before the meeting was arranged.
The message to parents is plain; keep an eye on your child. There are programs out there for parents where you can go back and check on what your children are doing on the Internet."

A 21-year-old construction worker from Inwood was held on $30,000 bond after he was arrested last week and charged with raping a 15-year-old girl he met in a chat room on the Internet. Police said the man drove the girl around Lynbrook before taking her to the Merrick train station parking lot, where he forced her to have sex with him in his car.

A man who is currently serving a six-year term for molesting a teenager he met over the Internet issued a warning to anyone whose child spends time on the Internet, saying there are plenty of others still out there who are just like him.
"I was taking advantage of the fact that I was older and, you could say, wiser if you want," he said. "I took a confusing time in a young girl's life and made it even more confusing and more difficult."
Eventually, he traveled to Metro Atlanta where his relationship with the teenager got physical. It ended when police found out.
"This is a dangerous thing; they're stealing the innocence of children and parents need to know this. They need to get current with what's going on the computer," said Peachtree City Police Chief.

News stories like these should dispel the notion that your children can safely use the Internet with no parental checks or controls. This was just a small portion of the news stories from 2004. The only other thing most of these stories have in common is the fact that, by definition of them being in the news; the predators were caught. There are unfortunately many more that escaped the law, and this could in part account for the missing children around the world today.
A parent who wishes to take action so that their child is not exposed to such people would benefit from the following tips for safer chatting.

Use kids chat sites that are primarily focused on children. IRC Networks are generally not suitable for children, however there ARE many good children's chat networks, which I have listed below.
Make sure there is more than just an email address to the chat network owner/operators. If possible, get a phone number to the company sponsoring the chat network.

Only use moderated chat rooms. Some chat rooms do not have monitors, or chat room operators. Rooms with moderators or operators provide some defense against unwanted or unsolicited messages from other users.

Make sure your kids do not give out any personal information. Also your kid's Internet Service Provider supplied email address should not be given out. There are several good anonymous email services available, such as Hotmail or Yahoo. Parents are encouraged to check their children's emails for inappropriate content, no matter which email service is utilized.

Most kids chat networks provide chat rooms for age groups. Make sure your child stays with in his or her age group. There he or she will find other kids with shared interests, and will have more fun.
A 9 or 10 year old would not be comfortable in a room for 17 to 18 year olds,

Watch when possible. No job is more important than being a parent, and it is your right and duty to make sure you're safe. Give your child some freedom to talk privately with your friends, but try not to let them have endless hours of unmonitored activity in chat rooms.

Require your child to log his or her chats. Most chat networks provide some logging functions. Should someone say something obscene or harmful to your child, he or she then has that record to turn over to the chat network moderator/operator, or in extreme cases, to law enforcement for investigation.

Make sure your child fully understands the potential dangers of arranging meetings with someone from the chat room. The only exceptions would be if he or she belonged to a chat room operated by a local group, such as the Boy or Girl Scout troop, church organization or other local group that he or she already meets with off line.

Online predators are very slick in their methods, they often look for kids that do not have a lot of friends, are sad, lonely, or come from one-parent households. They usually pretend to be another teenager, in order to get kids to talk with them. Or, they may pose as another adult, even saying they "moderate" the chat room, and help others. They will attempt to befriend a child, telling him/her that they understand their problems and want to help. If this person is a legitimate moderator or chat room operator, they should be trained as to what they can and cannot say. A good number of chat rooms have moderators that do an excellent job of operating and keeping the room safe for users.
If you are unsure who is a moderator, contact the chat room web site. Do not message anyone in the chat room itself. Send an email to the Webmaster, explaining your concern regarding an individual.

The list below offers a selection of chat sites of good reputation that are considered to be safer for children. They are designed specifically with children in mind and are thoroughly and expertly monitored for any signs of suspicious conversation or solicitation:

1) Chatmag's Harry Potter Discussion.
2) Chatmag's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" Movie Discussion.
3) Chatmag's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" Discussion.
4) Central Chat. 8 Chat Rooms.
5) Discussion Forum.
6) Harry Potter's Realm of Wizardry. Two Chat Rooms.
7) Hedwig's Chat. (Warning-Lots of popup ads)
8) Hogwarts.Der Harry Potter Fan Chat. In English and German.
9) Hogwarts Roleplay. Interactive Role Play Site.
10) Hogwarts Station. Discussion Forum.
11) HP-FC Chat Room, in German and English.
12) Chat Room.
13) Magical Enchantment. Discussion Forum.
14) Potter Headquarters. Discussion Forum.
15) Chat Room.
16) Thepotterprophecy. Discussion Forum.
17) Warner Brothers Harry Potter Community Site.
18) The World of Hogwarts. Discussion Forum.

In the following article I will further discuss this subject, and the dangers that they pose to children. I will look specifically into the nature of and dangers of 'blogs,' and provide you with a list of chat sites that your child should avoid. Finally I will discuss how an Internet filtering and monitoring program such 'CyberSieve' can help you to significantly reduce the dangers of chat sites to your children.

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