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Chat Rooms

I had never gotten raunchy e-mails on my AOL account, so I set out to find out why she was getting them. I logged on and browsed around a bit searching for clues. Then it occurred to me. Chat rooms. Kids love chat rooms. I pushed a button and stepped into the first room that presented itself: Town Square - Lobby 144. Fifteen seconds later it happened. "You’ve got mail!" Gingerly I opened my mailbox and wham! There it was. E-mail straight from the red light district.

Over the next few days, my mailbox filled up with more than 100 vile messages that proudly boasted of "XXX Schoolgirl Sex," "Interactive Live Sex," "Free Porno Pics" and "The HOTTEST Gay/Straight Content." Even worse, mixed up in the list were notes that looked personal. "Hi there, click here," read one. "Do I know you? I think we talked the other day… . " read another. One even informed me that there had been an AOL billing error on my account and I needed to click on the accompanying link to fix it. Those messages didn’t even hint at impropriety so I pointed and clicked. Not a good idea. Even seemingly innocuous messages led straight to porn sites.

My investigative journey into "chatworld" wasn’t over yet. While the e-mails poured in, I was getting an eyeful of various chat room conversations. I’ve had to delete some pretty salacious screen names—and I can’t even reprint the worst ones—but I’m compelled to show you examples of what teens experience in the unprotected world of chat:

AOL 1: It’s so [expletive] hot out today
AOL 3: 16 f here with a SEXY self pic!
AOL 4: hi any horny girls like to chat?
AOL 6: 15 fem with self pics and sister
AOL 7: wanna get naughty with a 18/m?

Some rooms are worse than others. But as you can see, even if you remove dangers such as stalkers and sexual deviants, chat rooms still require lots of supervision. So what’s a family to do?

Because of AOL’s ever-growing community of users, spamming (a term used for mass mailings of unsolicited e-mails) has become a major problem. AOL’s "Parental Controls" feature can help, but can’t completely insulate teens. Investigate Internet service providers (ISPs) that truly block pornographic and violent content before it ever reaches your home. These providers—some of them Christian companies such as Rated G, Safeconnect and Integrity Online—let families access fun or educational material without wading through most of the junk. All things considered, my advice would be to eighty-six chat rooms from your family’s web menu altogether. They’re just not worth it. But if that’s a battle you’re not able to fight right now, there are a few other things you can do. Ban public chat areas and insist on private, password-protected areas. This lets teens chat with their friends while controlling who joins in. It will clean up the room’s language and help prevent predators—such as porn companies and pedophiles—from finding your child.

We have to pay increasing attention to teen’s Internet activities. Especially chat rooms. Not because we don’t trust our children, but because we can’t trust other people waiting to exploit them.

Published July 1999