Who’s Talking to Your Kids in Cyberspace? The On-Line Threat to Children.

The Internet, the information superhighway, on line computer services, megabytes, gigabytes, modems, CD-ROM, DOS, RAM, hard drives, apples and e-mail may seem intimidating to non-computer literate adults but our children are quite comfortable with the recent advances in home computing and information technology. While computers allow children unprecedented access to information, entertainment and educational opportunities, it also provides access to people and things that may surprise you. While much has been written about pornography on the Internet, very little has been mentioned about the risk posed to children using computer on-line services to participate in on-line discussions in “chat rooms.”

On-line services including Prodigy, America On-Line and CompuServe, contain chat rooms which provide individuals with the ability to exchange lines of typed text between two or more people. Some chat rooms are specifically designed for children and some rooms are specifically designed for adults. The problem is you don’t have to be a child to enter a chat room intended for children nor do you have to be an adult to participate in conversations in chat rooms designed for adults.

Children purposefully and accidentally enter chat rooms created for sexually explicit conversations between adults and some adults purposefully enter chat rooms designed for children. It is estimated that more than 5 million people subscribe to on-line computer services and their identity is securely hidden behind on-line nicknames that can be changed every 24 hours. Chat rooms available on of the most popular services include Married & Cheating, The Hot Tub, Boys for Boys, Kids & Teens, The X Dungeon, Mistress Available, Master/Slave, Erotic Dreams and The Devils Workshop.

Not knowing what’s available on their home computer or who may be talking to their kids in on-line chat rooms, parents need to be aware of the steps they can take to protect their children from inappropriate on-line contact with strangers. The skills you teach your children regarding how to deal with real life situations involving strangers are the same skills your kids need to deal with strangers they meet through on-line computer networks.

The difference is that the stranger is no longer down the street, at the playground or in the shopping mall. Computers allow strangers to use on-line services to talk directly with your child from the privacy of their own home. If you subscribe to an on-line service for your home computer, take some time to become aware of the “Chat Room” services available. The following recommendations should be used as a guide for adults interested in supervising their child’s use of on-line chat services.

The computer is a revolutionary tool that offers hours of enjoyment and unsurpassed educational and entertainment possibilities. While the home computer opens new worlds for our children, parents should be aware of the steps they can take to ensure that their child’s use of on-line computer services will be a safe and enjoyable experience.

Keith Smith is the President of the Board of Trustees of Prevention Education Inc. Based in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, PEI is a nonprofit agency providing assault prevention education to children and crisis intervention services to child victims of sexual assault.

©Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 Keith Smith, Lawrenceville, New Jersey

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