I have heard horror stories about my pre-teen and teenagers using instant messaging all the time. Should I be concerned and if so, what can I do to about it?
This question was answered on August 13, 2004. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
Instant Messaging (IM) has become, without question, the de facto communication method for the current teen and pre-teen generation It has spawned a whole new language of acronyms and abbreviations and has even spread to the cell phone
Two acronyms that parents should know are POS (Parent Over Shoulder) and PAW (Parents Are Watching).
Unlike e-mail, it is a live interaction between two users anywhere in the world that are connected to the Internet
As soon as both are active, they can type messages back and forth in real time as if they were having a phone conversation The average teenager can have several simultaneous IM conversations because of their ability to ‘multi-task’.
This remarkable technology is an incredible way to stay in touch with lots of people, but because anyone can connect with anyone in the IM world, that is where the danger begins Very young and naïve IM users may unknowingly be interacting with much older predatory users that use IM to get close to young children.
If you are allowing your child to use IM without any guidelines or parameters, you are literally allowing them to be contacted by millions of strangers that have millions of agendas.
You would never allow them to ‘hang out’ with lots of older strangers in the real world, so you shouldn’t let that happen in the cyber world either.
If you are going to allow IM in our home, YOU must be up to speed on the technology.
The first thing to review with your child is the profile that was setup when the program was first loaded If your child has used real information, such as last name, mailing address, phone number and/or age, remove the information immediately and consider deleting the screen name and starting over with a new identity.
In addition, remove the ability for strangers to view your child’s profile, as that is where most predators start their search.
In the default settings, most IM programs will allow anyone to ‘knock on the door’ of your child’s computer to ask them to permission to connect with them.
By delving into the settings of any IM program, you can remove the ability for strangers to ‘knock on the door’ and you can limit interactions with only those that have been approved by you Have your child create a list of screen names and the associated real names so you will know with whom they are interacting.
As parents, we want to know who our child’s friends are in the real world, so don’t treat these cyber-friends any different.
Another danger of IM is the ability to transfer files across the system This has become another way to infect other computers with Trojans and Worms, so make sure your child understand these dangers or turn off the ability to accept files through IM.
To learn how to work with the various IM programs, the Los Angeles DA’s office has put together a very easy to understand IM resource site for parents which is located at http://da.co.la.ca.us/pok/im.htm.
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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on August 13, 2004