Parents need to wake up to how dangerous and just plain raunchy chat rooms can be. The anonymity of participants, unfiltered and unlimited access by virtually anyone, and the lack of parental supervision, make for a dangerous combination.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, two out of every five children ages 15 to 17 who are abducted fall victim in connection with internet activity. The way in which children use chat rooms makes them incredibly vulnerable to weirdos who wish to do them harm.
Recent polling of teens reveals that over 50 percent who enter chat rooms -- where conversations often turn raunchy and racy -- say they have given out personal information to complete strangers, including their phone numbers, home addresses, where they go to school or their schedules.
Of course, the harm is not usually abduction, but your child is very likely to fall victim to psychological or emotional manipulation by someone preying on their sexual vulnerability. The reality is that the pervert in the dark trench-coat that your mom warned you to look out for on the playground just might be talking to your child in the privacy of your own home.
According to Donna Rice Hughes, President of Enough is Enough (EIE), a non-profit organization that teaches families how to be safe online, "We recommend that parents seriously consider disallowing chat rooms because they are very difficult to monitor. And even in the monitored ones there are no guarantees because you can't detect a disguised predator."
Donna is right. There are so many other ways for kids to chat with their friends that there is absolutely no reason for them to enter chat rooms. Social networking sites like FaceBook, where kids can mark their profiles as private, offer safe places to chat, but you should monitor those, too. (I'll address social networking tips in a future column.)