Chat to other families
As a parent or carer it’s important to understand how your teen communicates with others online. It can be difficult to know what technology is out there as new apps and functions pop up daily and young people seem to know how it works inside and out very quickly.
Outside of social media chat functions like Facebook messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and BBM there are a number of teen chat rooms that are easily accessible through a simple Google search. In these ‘rooms’ your teen can pick an alias for themselves or create an avatar (an icon or image representing that person) and begin communicating with strangers in a matter of minutes.
It can be exciting and informative to communicate with different people online. You may learn about other cultures and about people from different walks of life, but it is important for your teen to remember that they are speaking with strangers.
While it is not unusual for teens to make many online friends whom they don’t know in real life (IRL), e.g. online gaming groups known as ‘clans’, shared interest groups through blogging sites such as Tumblr or Reddit, or even online study groups through learning platforms such as Coursera or Edx, the most important thing is that your teen stays safe whilst online.
Whilst in chat rooms your teen may be asked to turn their webcam on. This is not advised even if your teen knows the person in real life. There have been numerous incidents of teens having their image captured and used maliciously. Webcams can also be hacked into and turned on without your teen’s knowledge so it is important that they turn their webcams off properly, perhaps even by covering the lens when the webcam is not in use. Unfortunately, the anonymity the internet offers can lead people to forget social boundaries. Your teen may be harassed by other users to ‘flash’ parts of their body at the camera or do something inappropriate. Talk to your teen about standing up to peer pressure and to never do anything they feel uncomfortable with. It is important that they remember they can just turn their computer off and walk away at any point they like.
Inform your teen of the importance of maintaining their privacy whilst in chat rooms. This means not giving out their phone number, email address or home address. Even telling someone the name of their town, their school or where they sometimes hang out may be enough to identify them. Ask them not to give out their other social media profiles out either to ensure privacy. Your teen should also consider that the person they are communicating with may not be who they say they are. For instance, a seventeen year old may think they’re speaking with someone their own age, but they could easily be speaking to someone twice their age.
No matter how much you teen feels they know about someone, it is never advised that they meet up with anyone they talk to in a chat room in real life. Even if the meetup is planned in a public place and with a group of people, this can still be risky. Explain the dangers of not knowing who that person is and how vulnerable they would be if they were to meet up with them.
If your teen feels uncomfortable whilst chatting or if a person is pressuring them to turn their webcam on or give personal information, they can do a number of things.
Encourage your teen to always talk to you if they are concerned about anything they have seen or been asked to do online. Let them know that you can help them and they won’t be in trouble as it is important for them to confide in you if anything troubles them online.
This article is supported by The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation.