Missing Persons Clearinghouse
1-800-FIND-KID (1-800-346-3543)

Instant Messaging, Chat Rooms and e-mail

Instant Messaging (IM)

IM is a form of Internet communication that combines the live nature of real time chat with the personal contact of email. IM may be accessible through cell phones, "Blackberries," or other similar devices, as well as on a computer. It is a safer environment than chat rooms since contact lists can be better controlled.

IM software allows users to create a detailed personal profile including: name, email address, age, home address, phone number, school and hobbies.

  • If children aren't careful during the sign-up process, they can reveal more than they should.
  • Easy accessible profiles can allow anyone to contact them.
  • Some IM programs offer users the option of joining in chat with strangers.
  • The reach of IM can encourage gossiping and bullying.
  • Children can receive pornographic "spam" through IM.

Chat Rooms

Chat rooms are places on the Internet where you can have live, real-time conversations with many people at the same time.

Everyone in the chat room can see what everyone else writes, but you can still be as anonymous as you want.

While chat rooms can be dynamic meeting places for people with similar interests:

  • Children can be easily mislead to do things that they ordinarily would not do.
  • It is easy for a child to reveal more, sometimes much more, than they should.
  • They are cruising grounds for predators.

Electronic mail (e-mail)

Unlike regular mail, email is almost instantaneous, no matter how far apart the correspondents are.

If managed well, e-mail can be a great way to encourage children to communicate in writing.

It can also give them some online independence, without compromising their safety.

E-mail can also open the door to risks. Unwanted “junk” mail can include:

  • "Spam" (including mail pretending to be a company you trust, such as your bank, to entice you to reveal personal or financial information.)
  • "Phishing" scams (fraudulent e-mail messages or fake web sites designed to steal your identity.)
  • Viruses and worms (effects can range from mildly annoying to very destructive.)

If a stranger gets hold of a child's e-mail address (i.e., through a chat room, a blog or dissemination by an acquaintance or friend), the child can be:

  • Sent harassing/intimidating messages or pornography.
  • "Cyberstalked" or solicited to become involved uncharacteristic behavior;
  • even alienation from their families and friends or
  • pressure to meet.

If a person unknown to you was speaking to your child in your front yard, what would you do?

If your child was communicating with the same stranger online, what would you do?

Blogs, IM, Chatrooms, e-mail:
What is reasonable?

Age Guidelines
Under 8 Children shouldn't be using IM, chat rooms or blogs - period. Email should be restricted to only approved senders.
8-10 If you add IM or chat, make sure only pre-approved senders can send to your child. No blogs!
10-12 Give them more privacy, as long as it is with people you trust. Block all but pre-approved senders. Still no blogs!
13-15 Respect their privacy even more. Give them more leeway regarding IM, e-mail, chat and blogs. But check and account for everyone, in real life, on their buddy lists. No friends of friends!
16+ Parental involvement becomes difficult at best - if good judgment and communication have not been firmly established by now… all bets are off.
  • If they have earned your trust, give it to them.
  • If not, unplug the computer and take away their cell phones and interactive gaming devices.