Chat rooms are not “rooms” at all; they are public forums for discussion. The word “room” implies intimacy and limited capacity, which just isn’t the case. Anyone can be in a chat room, and easily lie about who and what they are. Same goes for social networking sites, blogs and more. When you visit these sites, proceed with caution. NEVER share personal information with someone you meet online. NEVER post anything online that you wouldn’t want the general public to know. Because, if someone has access to the Internet, then they have access to what you post. And, NEVER allow someone to make you feel uncomfortable online.
What would you do if you found out someone broke into your locker…your car… your home? You would probably be furious, freaked out, and angry. You would want to know how it happened, what you could have done to stop them. Online, you can take steps to help prevent an invasion of your privacy. Always begin by protecting your identity. Some websites might ask you to create an account before allowing you access to the site. Make sure you talk to your parents and do your research before filling out anything. Some websites capture information just to sell it to a different organization, or they begin spamming your inbox with unwanted messages. Sometimes, your information can be accessed and stolen, and your identity is compromised. You could find yourself harassed by collection agencies and not know why.
When chatting, do not share your full name, addresses, phone numbers or school info. Don’t reveal information about your parents or best friends. Don’t talk about where you work, what teams you play for, or what band you are in. Sharing too much information gives a predator the tools to narrow down where you live, what school you go to, your friend’s names and addresses. It unlocks your world to them, and the consequences can be devastating.
The idea of meeting new people online can be exciting, but meeting them in person is a completely different story. Even if you have spent hundreds of hours emailing back and forth, you still don’t know them. People can lie about who they are, what they do, and where they live. This is when you need to be your most guarded. Talk to your parents about this online friend, and work together on the best plan to meet the person. Pick a public place that you know well, and bring an entourage. NEVER go alone. If you are with your friends, still stay in contact with your family. Stick to the plan. Check in when you get there, and leave at the time you agreed upon with your parents. If it goes well, great! You’ve got a new friend and new possibilities. If it doesn’t go well, your friends or family are already there with you to help through.
Everyone has heard the phrase “turn the other cheek”; which is usually the best way to stay out of trouble. But, on the Internet, avoiding confrontation can be difficult. If you have received mean, threatening, or obscene messages, tell your parents… tell a teacher… tell a friend… tell someone you trust. If you feel like you might be in danger, call the police immediately. Never respond to these messages, but do not delete them either. Save them in a separate file as a documentation of the harassment. If the messages are sexual, report them immediately to the CyberTipline. Log on to http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PageServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=2936 or call 1-800-843-5678 to get more information.
Talk with your parents about the Internet; that includes the sites you visit and the people you talk to. Show them the power and benefit of the web, and discuss openly the risks that you might face online. Avoid any misunderstandings by working together to set ground rules and expectations for Internet use. Keep the lines of communication open, and discuss any issues you may face online.