Chat rooms have gotten bad publicity as places where Internet predators prowl in search of victims. Crime stories describe kids and adults who met someone in a chat room, became friends, and then became crime victims when they met face-to-face in real life.
That reputation is unfortunate because chat rooms can be wonderful places to exchange information and experiences on topics ranging from adoption to zoos.
Young people have been the main users of chat rooms. Many adults have never visited one, and are barely aware that chat rooms are Internet sites where people keyboard messages back and forth live - almost like chatting on the telephone.
It s high time for more adults to elbow their way into the chat room scene, and take greater advantage of this wonderful Internet feature.
Are chat rooms like Instant Messaging (IM)?
IM actually is a form of chat. With IM, however, each individual selects the individuals to chat with, and keeps them in a list, often termed a “buddy list.” They re usually close friends or family members.
Chat rooms are open to everyone, including total strangers. Among them may be an occasional person who is looking for a victim.
If you ve never used a chat room, check the Internet for directories (which list site addresses), and drop into a few. Good directories include www.chatterhead.net, www.chatmag.com, http://chat.yahoo.com, and http://web.icq.com/icqchat. The directories include chat sites on all topics.
Many of the same rules for safe chatting that apply to kids also are useful for adults. Adults with young kids may want to get familiar with this topic so they can counsel their kids on safe chatting, and perhaps monitor chat activities.
One good place for both adults and kids to start is ChatDanger (www.chatdanger.com), which discusses the dangers of chat rooms, provides safety tips, and describes how to recognize a good chat room.
You usually have to register to enter a chat room, and that means providing at least some basic personal information, such as e-mail address and birth date, which may be available to everyone else in the chat room.
Some people feel more comfortable using a secondary e-mail address, rather than their regular address. You can get one quick by signing up for a free web-based e-mail account at sites like Yahoo! (http://mail.yahoo.com) or Google (https://gmail.google.com).
When you begin chatting, be cautious about giving out other personal information. Where do you live? Make it northern Ohio, southern Michigan, near Pittsburgh, or dismiss the query with a line like, “in the state of confusion.”
Be wary about responding to personal but seemingly innocent questions. That 75-year-old grandmother may really be a 40-year-old con artist or predator preparing to pounce.
With a little caution and common sense, you can enjoy chat rooms and get a lot of benefit from chatting without any problems.