Most children, especially teenagers, are communicating through the Internet using a number of social media sites and chatting applications. Instant messaging has become quite popular ever since it was introduced in the 1990s. It is no secret that the Internet is an extremely powerful tool that is very useful especially for students. However, it is important that both children and parents understand that there is a need to practice common sense and learn about a few safety measures, particularly when it comes to random video chat websites.
Surfing and Chatting
When your child uses the computer to read and visit websites online, this is known as surfing. Some call it browsing as well, but the meaning is the same. Surfing is very useful since it allows kids to visit virtual museums, read public documents and books, and even watch films. However, when left unmonitored, your child may be able to access materials online that are inappropriate for his or her age. More often than not, surfing is where teenagers find a chat room where they can talk and even video chat with random people.
Random video chat is typically a part of chat rooms. Chatting is a popular way of exchanging messages online with people you may or may not know. This is very enjoyable especially for youngsters where they talk to other individuals anywhere in the world by simply typing what they would like to say. With the advancement in technology, chatting has become more than just typing. Now, there are many software applications available on both desktops and smartphones where young people can video chat with strangers. For some, this is very harmless because video chatting is like talking in person. However, many people abuse this technological progress by harassing others; particularly the younger ones.
What Parents Should Know about Video Chat
Video chat is usually comprised of two people talking to each other in front of their own computers. It is similar to a phone call where both parties see each other and communicate online. Some video chatting software applications now allow users to chat with groups and not just with another person. Most of the time, the conversations are innocent enough especially if your child is simply talking to a friend, a classmate, or a relative. However, things become different with random video chat.
When teens are allowed to broadcast their webcams to other people, this opens their world to a barrage of harassment, which can either result to them being bullied or sexually abused. The latter is quite common in girls, but it does not mean that young boys are safe from online predators. Young boys and girls alike receive sexual messages where they are often asked to undress themselves in front of their cameras. This is very disturbing most especially since the victims here are often too young to get involved in such activity.
Right now, there are thousands of free random video chat websites and software applications that your teen can gain access to. Some have their own twists and some even guarantee safety, but precautions should definitely be taken for each and every one of them. Some examples include:
- Random pairings – There are websites that automatically connect the users with random people. You sign up for an account and you will immediately be paired with people you may not have in common with or are in a different place, age range, and likes. This can be dangerous for young people as they can easily be paired with older individuals who will easily take advantage of them.
- Live show – There are also other sites where users can broadcast their webcams live to anyone online. This can be useful for those who seek instant fame because it is like YouTube where they can post videos of themselves singing, dancing, doing makeup tutorials, and others. However, it is common for the users to get sexual requests and rude comments. For instance, in 2012 of January in California, a man was charged with child pornography for persuading and eventually threatening a 13-year-old girl to give him pornographic videos.
- Zip code search – It is more exciting for chatters to find random people they can talk to within the same area, city, or country as they are. There are video chatting sites and applications that offer this kind of service. Once again, this should be addressed with caution especially if you have a young child who is actively participating in video chatting with random people.
Aside from using websites and software programs to chat and video chat with other individuals, there are other dangerous schemes used by the online predators these days. Once again, with the advancement of technology, it is possible to hack cameras at home using a piece of software intended for this purpose. This is invasion of privacy and teenagers along with their parents are advised to remain vigilant. There have been many instances where hackers go after young victims and take control over their photos and videos without the teens’ knowledge. One example is a Dayton man in 2006 who was sentenced to prison for 25 years after hacking into webcams of minors and recording them while watching in his home.
The Real Dangers of Internet Chatting
As enjoyable as the activity is, there are several hazards that are waiting to strike as soon as your child gets into the Internet chatting scene. These include the following:
- Addiction – Your child can easily be addicted to video chatting. The thought of talking to random people excites the youngsters and soon enough, they will form several relationships through it. What happens next is that they prioritize their virtual friends over their real world relationships.
- Anonymity – There is always a question of whether or not your profile that contains your personal information is safe from prying eyes. Anyone can take your photo and use it to create a whole new individual and you do not have any idea about it.
- Bogus information – Even though it is video chatting, it usually starts with simply typing texts first. Most of the time, the users lie about their age, gender, and location. The person your child is talking to may not have the purest of intentions and may even be a con artist waiting to strike on your innocent daughter or son.
- Bullying – Video chatting, especially those that are being broadcasted live, can encourage bullying. Cyber-bullying is very common these days especially because most of the users remain anonymous. They feel that they are entitled to say anything they want since no one would know it was them anyway. The bullies can also spread ill rumors just so they can tarnish your child’s reputation.
- Money fraud – There are automated systems that may require your child to pay for a particular chat room in order for them to access it. In this case, you should not allow them to use your credit card as these websites are only waiting to prey on children.
- Sexual predators – These are often the most dangerous of all because they are so many of them. Each year, there are hundreds of men who are charged with being pedophiles as they lure children into trusting them.
Children are quite vulnerable especially if parents do not guide them. They can easily give their personal information to people they do not know and of course this can be deadly. A stranger can immediately charm a young girl or boy and soon enough, these cyber sharks may put your child in danger.
What Parents Can Do
The good news is that random video chatting does not have to be that dangerous. This is especially true if your child understands his or her limitations as well as the other party’s limitations. If you have little idea about video chatting, you can research about it. You can use your understanding of this method of communication to help your child comprehend its advantages, disadvantages, and risks.
After you have done your homework, it is time for you to sit down and talk with your child. Open up about the topic and mention the following as well:
- Nicknames and profiles – Make them understand that there are people out there who will take advantage of the things that they put out online. It is important that your child does not use any provocative nicknames as these will only encourage the online predators to exploit them.
- Receiving files – Nothing is safe online, even those that come from the people you know. Most of the chat rooms and chatting software applications these days allow photo and document exchange. This can be helpful at times, but there are files that carry viruses, which can easily corrupt, delete, or hack data from the computer. Therefore, it is important to be very wary when accepting files especially from people they do not know.
- Strangers – Telling your child not to talk to strangers is like telling a hungry child not to touch a hot, yummy pizza in front of him. Talking to strangers is exactly what video chatting is all about these days. You can warn your kid about the dangers of this activity though and make sure that he or she completely understands what you are saying.
- Etiquette – Just because your son or daughter is chatting with someone they have not met yet does not mean that they can be rude or offensive. They should know about the proper etiquette when it comes to Internet chatting. The same rules apply when talking to someone in person. Tell them not to make inappropriate comments as well as violent tones in a conversation.
The lessons in cyber abuse and video chatting dangers do not end with just talking with your children. Although they may complain about you being too strict, their safety is what matters in the end. Aside from having a serious discussion with them, your job is not done yet. Here are other things that you need to do as a protective, loving, and caring parent:
- You should be aware of the applications that your child uses. Check their phones and laptops from time to time to find out what kind of software they currently have when it comes to communicating with their friends and other people.
- You should spend more time with your child especially in exploring the Internet. This will allow them to understand that to chat with random people can be fun, but it is dangerous as well. Present them facts and news stories so that they are completely aware of their surroundings.
- It is important to keep the computer in a room where the whole family can see. Putting the computer in your child’s bedroom only gives them the power to do everything they want, even the inappropriate ones.
- You can filter or block websites and even applications that will only encourage your child to keep talking to strangers. If they are so willing to talk to people, why not just socialize with their friends or the ones that they personally know?
- Check your bills to make sure there are not unusual outgoing phone calls. As for incoming calls, make sure your landline has caller ID to know who is calling and the caller’s number as well.
- If you do not need a webcam, then there is no reason to get one. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones do have built-in webcams, but if you are using desktop PCs, there may not be a need to install a webcam in the computer.
Think about Internet use as crossing the street. You would not want to let your child cross the street without giving him or her a lesson in safe stress crossing first. Similarly, you would not give your son or daughter the car keys without enrolling them to a driving school and earning a license. The key to safety online is to understand the responsibilities that go together with Internet use. Hopefully this guide can empower you to comprehend the Internet and therefore enjoy the benefits it provides.