Chat Safety

Chatting is the most popular online communication tool among young people. It is the ideal way to talk to your friends when you can’t be together and to maintain or elaborate your social network.

It is very easy, provides the user broad interaction and is almost as quick as a face-to-face-conversation. To chat even quicker, young people develop a chat language, filled with abbreviations and emoticons. At the same time, you can exchange photo’s and video’s and, if you have a webcam, you can see each other, which adds the non-verbal aspect to the communication.

Young people also use their webcam to check whether their chat partner is really who he or she pretends to be.
Although they appear to be experts, we should learn young people a few safety measures.

Children and young people often use their buddy list as a popularity measure: the longer the list, the more popular you are. Therefore they will accept anyone sending them a request into their list, even if these are complete strangers. Especially primary school children should be taught to only chat with people they know in real life (offline). Indeed, they don’t have (yet) the cognitive skills to judge the intentions of their chat partner. Young people often feel the need to meet new people online, but regularly see these strangers too quickly as a true friend. They will trust someone quicker than adults do and the word ‘friend’ has another notion for them. Therefore we should learn them to stay critical towards everything anyone says online.

As mentioned before, the webcam is a great instrument, but also in the use of this tool, there are some safety manners to consider. You never know beforehand what is happening at the other side so you might see erotic or other images you did not want to see. We also have to raise young people’s awareness that your cam-partner can record the images registered by the webcam and can diffuse these images without your permission. In cases of cyber bullying, embarrassing or nude pictures or video’s are posted online or send to others.