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Talk Is Cheap And Often “Dangerous”: What Savvy Parents Should Know About Instant Messaging

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

Chances are that most of us these days rely on our computers for everything from doing research to keeping in touch with friends. And, chances are that our children are no different. They probably rely on the family (or their own, if they’re lucky) pc for doing homework, to keeping in contact with friends, or even working on group projects. Still, while you may not have to “worry” about them answering phone calls from strangers, or greeting a stranger at the front door, modern-technology has made it quite easy for others to reach your kids.

Instant messaging (IM) is probably the quickest, easiest ways to gain access (to conversation) with someone online. Unlike traditional email, you don’t have to wait for the message to be sent, delivered, received, opened, read, and responded to. IM is email in real time and it allows others online to touch base with you immediately. And, according to recent research has become the most popular way for children (of all ages) to communicate with their peers, and beyond.

While many kids say it gives them access to their classmates, even at times when someone else in the family is on the phone, when it’s late (and they can’t go out), when no one is available to transport them from one home to the next, or when they are shy about making conversation in person; and even adults agree that it seems much safer than chat rooms because kids can set up contact lists and block specific persons from being on their lists, there is still lots of concern about who kids are talking to and who is talking to your kids. That is why many experts and parents agree that it’s important for parents to continue to continually supervise who their children give their address to over the net, and whom they are trying to contact, as well as helping them set up blocks from anyone using elicit language or unkind words.

Furthermore, they add that when kids sign up for instant messaging, they usually use their e-mail address, but once they are registered for IM, they can choose a nickname or “handle” visible only to those on their contact list.

Additionally, various instant messaging services offer a variety of security features blocking intruders from tapping into the contact list. You can often also check who has added your child to their contact list by clicking view on the home page. By “checking” the box that says Alert me when other people add me to their contact list, you and your child can be eclectic about who to allow and who to disallow as part of the list.

If you and your child come across a name you don’t recognize or are uncomfortable with, you can click on it and select Block. By doing this you are preventing that person form further being able to contact your child. Delete Contact will remove the name (entirely) from the Messenger screen.

Experts also remind parents and children alike that instant messaging makes it just as easy for bullies, as well as friends to contact your child, especially if one of your child’s friends hangs out with a bully or decides to taunt your child due to a disagreement. Also, because kids can chat with more than one other child at a given time, it becomes pretty easy for kids to gang up on each other.

In fact, say experts, instant messaging allows kids to say things they otherwise wouldn’t in person. This they note, is because children, via computers and instant messaging feel “safe” from being exposed, plus they feel more removed from the person they are “antagonizing” and are less reluctant to show empathy or fear for their words or how they treat someone.

It is therefore important to help your children protect themselves by enforcing the following Iming rules:

· Don’t respond to a stranger or bully

· Save offensive of antagonistic messages and show them to a parent or known and trusted adult

· Never write anything that could be misinterpreted or offensive, or that you wouldn’t want the world to be exposed to or see.

· Remember that some forms of online bullying are considered a crime. Among these: racist remarks and remarks aimed at damaging someone’s reputation.

Most parents also express increasing concern with instant messaging with regards to its “addictive” draw. Children often don’t know when to stop. In fact, they note that lots of children leave the computer on, so when the sound bell notifies them of a new massage, it becomes difficult for them not to drop everything to see who it is and respond.

Some sites however, note experts, offer programs that can limit the time each child has to chat, by keeping kids informed of how much time they have left on the computer (and these programs, say experts can be purchased online).

The next best alternative is keeping the computer centrally located so that YOU can (easily) monitor your child. If you (the parent or person you’ve made authority over your child) is unfamiliar with computers and/or computer technology, experts suggest you (quickly) learn it. Start by installing (and subscribing) to the same instant messaging program your child will be using, and begin chatting with friends and family. You may even want to allot a time where both you and your kids sit and send messages to contacts; this way you’ll both keep up with your friendships, but YOU can keep an close (but not so obvious) eye on your kids and their Iming activity.

Long Island Safety Articles > Talk Is Cheap And Often “Dangerous”: What Savvy Parents Should Know About Instant Messaging

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