Right, chat rooms are exciting. No one disputes that. Here you can be whoever you want to be – on the Internet everyone is beautiful. But never underestimate the level of danger lurking in chat rooms.
Avoid doing the following things and you should be OK.
Believing everything people tell you. Keep in mind that the possibility exists that the sexy blonde 16-year-old babe you’ve been chatting to for two weeks could in fact be a 56-year-old man. On the net it is dangerous to believe everything people tell you.
Giving out your real name and address. This is a big one. Many paedophiles use the chat rooms as hunting grounds. There are many oddballs out there – do you really want them on your doorstep? Or waiting for you as you leave school? Or following you into the subway? Get the picture?
Talking about very personal things. Remember that chat rooms, even if you are messaging one-on-one, are not private – people who have the know-how can access these conversations and also the details of the computer from where you are chatting. And besides, isn’t it more fun talking about personal things to real people?
Choosing chat rooms over real chums. There is nothing like a real friend. The Internet is anonymous, distant and cannot really fulfill your social needs on an ongoing basis. Real contact with friends is a lot more meaningful in the long run than internet chats with faceless strangers, except if you are very shy and have no friends. But then, the chat room is not really going to solve that.
Running up your parents’ phonebill. Calls are expensive – if you spend only an hour a day on the phone every day, this could increase your parents' phone bill substantially. Most parents would not jump for joy at this increase in their phonebill.
Allowing yourself to be harrassed online. If a specific person harasses you online, swears at you or constantly makes disgusting suggestions, you can have them barred – every chat room usually has an ‘overseer’ who is contactable. Lodge a complaint if you need to.
Lying about yourself. One could probably get away with this for a short time, but eventually you are going to forget what you said to whom. Puffball will react with shock when she finds out you are in fact a scholar and not the psychiatrist you pretended to be. Or Wizard when he finds out you are not a married mother of three as you pretended.
Giving out telephone numbers. Many people have had to change their telephone numbers after being constantly harassed by some weirdo who phones them constantly in the middle of the night. Remember that you don’t know anything about the other chat room users, except what they choose to tell you.
Allowing yourself to be pressurised into a meeting. This is very dangerous ground. It is wisest not to do this at all, but if I cannot talk you out of it, take at least two friends with you. Meet in a public place and do not divulge your address. Tell at least two people where you are going and when you could be expected back. Preferably don't go at all - not unless you take at least two people with you.
Choosing a suggestive nick. Call yourself Sex Bomb or Dreamstud and you are bound to attract the attention of sickos who cannot get their jollies in the normal social way – ask yourself why this is?
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated June 2010)
(Picture: teen boy using laptop from Shutterstock)