Is it safe to be chatting on the internet?
Yes, as in any situation, there are horror stories. There are stories where kids meet up with a "15 year old cute girl" and it turns out she is a 42 year old man. It happens, sure. But instead of telling your kids not to do so, make them aware of what to do if someone asks for personal information or to meet up. It's just like giving your kid the sex talk: you can't tell them not to do it, but you can tell them how to do it safely.
Justification of online chatting: Not everyone on the internet is going to be lying about who they are. I have met some seriously amazing people that I never would have met if it wasn't for the internet. Kids get lonely! It's nice to have someone there that will talk to you even when you are feeling down or when you're excited. Also, internet friends can be a good way for kids who can't socialize as well in person to have long-lasting friendships.
Here are some things kids should know about internet chatting:
- Do not give out personal information. Unless you have absolute proof that the person is who they say they are and is not dangerous in any way, do not give them your address, where you go to school, bank information etc. One exception would be giving out your phone number. If you feel comfortable enough giving your phone number to someone you have talked to for awhile, go ahead! Just be prepared to cut off contact if things get sketchy
- Be careful when meeting. If you do plan to meet, please tell someone where you are going and the name, number and description of the person you are going to meet. If it works, bring someone. Meet in a safe, public space and never agree to go alone anywhere the first time you meet up. If you are under 16, please bring an adult.
- Do not assume that everyone is good. You might talk to someone and because they are nice or funny, ignore the fact that their profile picture is a celebrity and their name is very fake.
- Do not lie about yourself. This is pretty obvious, of course. But if you lie even about a small thing, you are doing exactly what you don't want someone to do to you!
- As mentioned above, don't be afraid to cut off contact if things get a little weird. Don't feel obliged to keep talking to that 42 year old man just because you have been for a month. If things get weird or you feel uncomfortable, don't think you have to tell them. Sure, it's courteous to tell someone how you feel, but if it is unsafe the last thing you should do is make them angry and feel the need to make things more unsafe.
If you're a parent, talk to your kids about this! If they are on the internet at all there is going to be a point where they meet someone! Just let them know how to be safe about it and if things start to feel uncomfortable, to inform you.