Family Rules for Chat and IM

If your family decides that your children may participate in online chats and IM, set guidelines for the use of these platforms and include these guidelines in your Digital Family Policy. Here are some thoughts to guide the creation of chat rules:

  • Strangers are strangers. Remind your children that people in chat rooms are always strangers, even if they have chatted with that person for a long time. There is no way for your children to know whether the person they are talking to is who they say they are. Your children should always consider them strangers and apply the rules they would follow for interaction with people they don’t know.

  • Don’t share personal information. Require that your children never share personal or identifying information in public chats or with people they only know online including name, address, name of school, phone number, and location.

  • Never meet an online acquaintance. Tell your children that it’s never okay to meet someone in person with whom they chat online.

  • Practice good online manners. Ask that your children follow the same rules for interaction that they follow with people in person including manners and courteous behavior.

  • Use the same manners everywhere. Remind your children that they need to follow the same home chat and IM rules regardless of whether they are at a friend’s house or public location, such as school or a library computer.

  • Speak up. Require your children to report any suspicious or bullying behavior to you immediately and ask that they save the body of the chat in case you need to report it to a chat room administrator or other authority.

  • Follow platform-specific rules. Decide upon rules specific to the various types of chats, including video chat, text, and voice. For example, you may create different rules for a kids’ only online world with monitored text chat than you would for a video chat platform, such as FaceTime.

  • Keep it public. Ask that your children never accept a request to enter a private chat room with someone they only know online. They should report to you if someone has asked them to do this. They should also avoid member-created chat rooms, which are less likely to be moderated.

  • Choose your chat room carefully. Encourage your children to pay attention to chat room names when they are joining a conversation because the name of the room may indicate the tone of the chat taking place.

  • Do not click links or downloads. Remind them to not click any links or downloads shared with them in chat rooms and messaging platforms.

  • Keep the folks informed. Ask your children to let you know if they have begun to chat with someone on a regular basis and form a relationship with someone that they only know online.

  • Set the rules. Establish rules about what to do if a user continues to request chats after being denied or if a user says something inappropriate: for example, using the block or ignore features in the messaging program.

You will likely need to create different rules for different age groups of children in your family. Most young children who are old enough to read can safely enjoy restricted chat with pre-populated greetings and responses, while children a bit older may be able to safely enjoy open chats on safe, child-only platforms while using appropriate chat profiles with appropriate privacy settings.

Just because a chat room says it is for kids, there may still be adults chatting, and the content may not be appropriate.

Before allowing your children to participate in any chat platform, be sure that they know how to do the following:

  • Keep a history. Change the chat settings so that chat history is saved. This may be needed in the future should you need to report a chat or user.

  • Report a suspicious chat. All chat platforms have steps that users can take to report suspicious activity. If your child is old enough, he may be able to report suspicious or inappropriate behavior without your help. Younger children may need you to help them decide whether content should be reported and locate how to do this.

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  • Block a user. Chat platforms allow users to block specific users, keeping them from reaching out again to your child’s account. Each platform does this a bit differently, so be sure to help your child find the steps they will take to block a user in the event that they need to do so.

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Even after discussing the safety concerns of online conversation and your family’s rules, you might still be concerned about your children and online chatting. Consider installing monitoring software that can help you capture all chat and IM activity. You can even have activity logs and Friend/buddy lists e-mailed to you. Some monitoring software includes chats on gaming and social media platforms as well as voice, video, and text chatting.

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