Part 2: Instant Messaging
Instant Messaging is very big right now with kids. IM-ing for short, it's basically just a little message window where you can send a sentence or so at a time back and forth with a fellow friend whose also online. It has one big difference from chat rooms though: it's usually a 1 on 1 chat rather than a large group chat, which opens up new things to worry about. While it can be a useful tool for talking back and forth with friends, it can also be dangerous if you don't follow basic safety tips.
Age Range: 9 and under
Your child probably shouldn't be using Instant Messaging at this age.
Age Range: 10-13
Generally, your child should make sure they know the person they're chatting with in real life. Either a friend from class, or family from out of state, that kind of thing. Anyone can claim that they're another 11 year old, they can post a fake picture in their profile, and all sorts of misleading information believable to a child or even an adult. On the internet, anything can be doctored.
I would recommend making a rule sheet with your child. Don't simply hand this to them and say "follow this or else punishment". Instead, have a discussion with them, and create a rule list together with these rules included in one way or another. If they have input in it, they'll be far less likely to want to break the rules. Post the rules right next to the computer.
-NEVER give out your personal information.
Anything beyond your first name and the country you live in is too much personal information. While I have no doubt that your child is intelligent and possibly more computer savvy than you are, child predators are very real. The "invincibility of youth", in that youth believe that they cannot be harmed, is a real danger chatting.
-Make sure you (the parent) is home and nearby.
If you cannot be watching the screen while your child chats, make sure to periodically check. Also, tell them that if they find anything unusual in the chat to come to you immediately.
-No filling out a personal profile
Many IM services let you fill out a profile with your information if you want to. Don't fill it out, it's that simple. Anyone can see these profiles.
-Never talk to strangers
You can check your child's contact lists (i.e. their list of saved friends). Go over the list every now and then to make sure your child can tell you who each of the people are. If for some reason your child does need to do Instant Messaging with someone they dont know, make sure you are very aware of the conversation going on, and make sure your child understands that under no circumstances whatsoever are they to meet this person in real life.
-No spreading rumours and gossip or hateful messages
Today, one of the newest forms of bullying coming about is internet bullying, also called cyber-bullying. People posting rude messages about others or spreading nasty comments. Make sure that your child doesnt contribute to this.
Age Range: 14-15
Once they reach high school, most kids have a decent grounding on what is and isn't appropriate to do while instant messaging. It's still always a good idea to check up on your child, but at this age they can get very combative if you are overly watchful. The first rule still definately applies, that you never give out personal information to anyone.
The bigger problem here is privacy wants vs. security needs. Children will want privacy when talking to friends more and more at this time. Nobody wants their mom watching over their heads. It can be very difficult to do a balancing act of your child's privacy wants and safety needs.
The simplest solution is an open and frank talk with them. If you've been talking with them about internet safety since they were younger, they'll have a better sense of caution when chatting on the internet than those that haven't been talked to. Make sure that they know what is expected of them when they're chatting. Once they're past 15, most children have the skills they need to handle themselves while instant messaging, without guidance.
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