I am writing to you as a mom for advice.
I just found out some friends of my daughter are going onto chatroulette and omegle.
I was not familiar with these sites so I spent a little time looking around.
It is clear that this is not a place for middle school kids to be, even if they only use the TEXT option.
I want to appeal to my daughter on reasons not to use these sites and was hoping you could offer some ideas on links or stories that I could use as examples.
I know this issue is important to you so that is why I am asking for your assistance.
Dear Debbie: Thank you for the question. For anyone who is unfamiliar with these sites, Chatroullette and Omegele are websites that enable people to video chat with a complete stranger. Chatroulette and Omegele are just two of the more popular random video chatting sites.
There are very serious concerns about the use of these sites with children and teens. Chatroulette was created by Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old high school student in Moscow. He told the New York Times he initially created the site for "fun" and to “connect randomly with global users.” When Andrey created Chatroulette, I doubt that he had the foresight to see that there would be a multitude of adults who are in various stages of undress being paired with children. But that is what’s happening.
Unfortunately, there are many kids and tweens that are regularly logging on to Chatroulette and being exposed to content that is inappropriate and possibly dangerous. It is common for teens and tweens to get together for Chatroulette parties, but it is also getting more common for young kids who are left on their own to log on and interact with strangers. One example is an eight year old boy who is notorious on Chatroulette for being vulgar and asking girls to flash him.
Here is a summary of the dangers of these sites:
1. Your child can be exposed to adults who are nude and looking for a witness for their actions.
2. If your child is convinced to expose herself, it is very likely that it is being recorded. This can later be posted on the internet and identified by your child's friends, teachers or co-workers. There are actually a few posts on the Web titled "How to ruin someone's life" using Chatroulette.
3. Many people on Chatroulette do not care about the feelings of the person on the other end of the chat. Your child may be subjected to insults and slurs. A user can flag another's posts, but that rarely happens. Therefore, your child may come away from a Chatroulette session self- conscious and vulnerable.
In summary, this is absolutely no place for children. However, like I have stated many times, risky behavior does not come from just “bad” kids, but from kids. When helping parents that are concerned about Chatroulette, I must ask the following questions:
1. Does your child have an Internet capable computer in her room? If so, disable the network card or take the computer out. You would most likely not allow your child to go to a party with no adult supervision. The Internet is no different. The biggest parental mistake that I see is that they allow their child to have unrestricted and unsupervised access to the Internet from the privacy of a bedroom.
2. Do you have content filters set up? Nearly all computers, hand-held devices and their browsers have the ability to block content and sites. If you are unsure how to do this, just Google the browser name and parent controls. For example, use the search terms “Parent controls safari” and “blocking websites internet explorer” and you will no doubt find sites that walk you through these procedures step by step.
3. Do you have monitoring software installed on your computer and all hand-held devices? If not, do so, and fast. You will never regret being an overly cautious parent. But you can regret not being cautious enough.
Software I have recommended on my blog, http://www.bsecure.com/, monitors all devices and computers. It can automatically shut off a device at a desired time and email the parent of all places visited on the browser, as well as show texts and pictures sent or received on the computer and hand-held devices.
I hope this post is useful to parents. Please keep the questions coming. I am here to help.
A crucial point I hope to pass on in my blog is that all teens (and adults at times) will make impulsive decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. Digital media and the Internet further compound this problem by indelibly branding mistakes on the Internet, which can later compromise reputations, college admissions, job possibilities and drive some to suicide.
There are endless stories available on the Web where a Facebook post, tweet or picture has caused the demise of jobs, friendships or even lives. All of this usually occurs without the teen’s parents being aware of any issues.
The same can be said for the parents of teens that are purely victims of bad online behavior. Jessie Logan was an eighteen year old girl with a bright future. She committed suicide after a sexted picture of her made its way through her high school and then college. Her mother found out about the picture after it began circulating, and because Jesse was eighteen and not a minor, there was little that could be done legally.
Ryan Halligan was a thirteen year old boy who, unbeknownst to his parents, was being severely bullied online and in person. Ryan was set up to be mocked online by a girl he liked, and as a result, killed himself. Megan Meier and Phoebe Prince are also victims of what has been dubbed “bullycide”.
The common thread in all of these instances is the parents were unaware of their child’s online activities. There are many tools available to parents today that can aid in what I call “digital parenting.” These tools help parents stay one step ahead of their children, in spite of their children’s best efforts to hide their activities. For example, 32 percent of teens clear the browser history to hide what they do online from their parents. (Harris Interactive-McAfee, 2008)
What can you do?
Invest in monitoring software: www.Bsecure.com
There is now software available that will allow parents to see all of their children’s activity online and on their phone. One piece of software that I would like to recommend to my readers is Bsecure Online (6.1). Bsecure has been highly reviewed by industry media# and I believe it is the most comprehensive service for concerned parents.
Bsecure will monitor all computers (PC and Mac) , phones and other mobile devices. Bsecure notifies parents of your their child’s social media interactions, content of downloads, sets time limits for mobile devices (automatic shut off at bedtime), and filters content on home and mobile browsers.
This is truly one-stop shopping for the digital parent. There is far more than I am mentioning in this post.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with questions.
I am a technology leader, professional developer, teacher, parent and proud owner of an IEP. Let's talk about some fabulous learning experiences.