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Ensuring Chat Room Safety for Your Kids

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/2/2006 | Internet

With the blessing of the internet came its curse.

The internet is an unsupervised and unpoliced medium where it is very difficult to track or catch up with offenders because they are protected by the cover of anonymity. And your children are the most vulnerable to these threats, because they haven't yet learned to discern what is good for them and what is bad.

Horror stories about cyber-stalking and online headhunting have become urban legends. Your children run the risk of falling victim to pedophiles who are on the lookout for an opportunity to catch them unawares, when they are not monitored by grown-ups. Which is most of the time in city homes. You never know who is targeting your child. It may be a stranger from a distant land, or it may be the kindly next door neighbor whom you have dismissed as harmless. You need to keep up a constant vigil to protect your child from these threats.

First, do not consider taking the child totally off the web unless you have experienced an extreme emergency. The internet, like the real world, is a multifaceted environment which can be both good and bad, depending on how you are able to negotiate pitfalls. The streets are dangerous too, but would you confine your children to the home? Rather than cutting them off, give them some protection while teaching them what to access and what to avoid. The internet is a valuable resource that can enrich your child's life and education; do not take it away from them.

Most of the correspondence between a targeted child and the offender will go on through a certain type of internet service known as chat rooms. Many online businesses provide chat room service, and these include giants such s Yahoo! and MSN. Chat rooms are mostly unmonitored, and what goes on in them is not the concern of the service provider. It is your responsibility to ensure that your children's online activities are safe for them.

The chat software programs made by the service providers often have the ability to record conversations. Explore the program in your child's absence and turn the logging options on.

Another different kind of chat happens through a worldwide network called IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Popular software programs for IRC access include mIRC for Windows, and Xchat for Linux. Both of these offer the option of conversation logging. Find out if your children are using any of these, and turn on logging. Check the logs periodically to find out what is going on during your child's online presence.

If you cannot find any easy way to turn on the logging options, you may consider using a keystroke recorder on your child's computer. This type of program remains hidden in the background, but is able to record every keyboard button that your children ever press on the machine. This should enable you to find out not about only their chat room activities, but also many other possible sources of threat.

Alternatively, you can use a firewall to block the internet ports used by chat software. Ask a techie friend to configure a gateway and firewall for you so that they block the ports 194 and 6667, which are used by IRC, and any other port that may be used by the Yahoo or MSN chat services.

Even if you are repelled and confused by computer technology, you may have to dabble in some of it to ensure your child's safety while using chat rooms and other internet services. If you can't get a friend to do this for love, you can surely get a service person to do it for money.