Due to the emergence of modern technology, which includes computers and the Internet, loads of information can be easily accessed with one simple click of the mouse. A person can know the happenings in a place like China even if he/she is located thousands of miles away – like North America or Europe. Such is the power of the Internet. Unfortunately, there are dangers associated with it as well, especially for unsuspecting children.
Children, including those going into their adolescent years, are often fascinated with the thought of meeting new people through the Internet, especially via chat rooms and social sites (e.g. Friendster, MySpace, etc.). While there is nothing wrong with social networking using technology as a means, it can be dangerous, particularly if someone finds out about the child’s age and tries to exploit him/her into revealing unnecessary information. This is why it is important for parents to take good care of their children, more so in this so-called Age of Information.
One of the most reported cases of child exploitation in chat rooms is related to sexual exploitation. A perpetrator usually spends hours in a particular chat room that he thinks will interest children, waiting patiently for an innocent child to talk to them. Some young girls (as is often the case) are more than willing to speak with seemingly friendly individuals, often for them to confide in and just share thoughts with. Little do these young ones know that the perpetrator is actually preparing them for sexual activity.
When the innocent child and the perpetrator get better acquainted via chat and/or instant messaging, the perpetrator gets more and more confident and begins to make advances, such as an “eyeball” (an actual meeting of the once virtual chatmates). This will eventually lead to an invitation to the perpetrator’s place, where the actual sexual activity occurs.
The child may find it quite difficult to let go of the virtual relationship because he/she feels that there is an actual friendship going on, when in reality, the perpetrator is actually setting him/her up. As such, the child will more often than not reveal information that is usually not revealed to strangers or people hiding behind chat room nicknames. When this happens, the perpetrator can do a lot of things, such as robbing the family of the child, sexual activity, even to the extent of kidnap for ransom, and worse, murder.
A less serious threat that can occur (but nonetheless a threat) is acquiring viruses, spyware, and unwanted files through the chat room or social sites, which will damage your computer and in some cases, break it down totally. Computer owners will find it a great hassle to be dealing with viruses, particularly if the infection is a deep one, and more so if they aren't adept at dealing with viruses and/or spyware. Sometimes, an anti-virus program isn't enough, especially if the user is a child who doesn't know that the files he/she might receive are infected.
This threat becomes more serious when the computer is used as a means of income, meaning a person works off of his computer. Should a computer break down due to a child’s ignorance in the chat room, a lot of work could be lost, which will lead to loss of income, definitely something you don't want.
Another cause for concern is that the chat rooms and social sites are often times found with adult material in it. A child could possibly have his/her life changed forever if his/her morality is questioned and lost at such a young age. Nude pictures and videos aren't uncommon within such areas of the Internet, even though there are some sites that try to eliminate these.
Social sites and chatting is fine, so long as the children are kept away from the evils that are linked with these uses of the Internet. Should a child become exposed to these dangers, there is no telling what the overall effect in his/her life would be. One way of parents protecting their children is by checking on them from time to time, especially when they are using the Internet, a powerful yet potentially dangerous tool.