As we explain in recent book Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide, instant messenger (IM) programs allow kids to enjoy real-time chats with others by sharing text messages and animated or visual icons (typically emoticons, which convey mood or expression) instantaneously. As soon as a message is typed, it’s delivered to the other party. Instant messages are typically quick back-and-forth notes, often involving short sentences and lots of abbreviations. In order to Instant Message with someone, it’s typically necessary for both parties to be on each other’s friends list and using the same service, but it’s relatively easy in some IM programs for chats to happen between strangers and across multiple platforms.
According to a report by The Radicati Group, there were more than 2.5 billion IM accounts worldwide (and this was in 2011) – a number that will increase to 3.3 billion in 2015. Further, whether with free or paid apps, kids need only possess each others’ usernames, handles or identification codes and it becomes extremely difficult to monitor their communications or even access a record of how much they’re using these services.
Many of the same concerns that parents have with texting can also apply to IMs, especially when it comes to the language of abbreviations. But even worse, it’s easier for strangers to try and connect with your kids via instant messaging programs. “The most common method for sexual predators to find victims,” according to Stanely Holditch, a product evangelist for McAfee, “is to go to common chat rooms and lure kids into chats. And for some reason they seem to like using MSN Messenger.” That’s why McAfee and other security companies offer a variety of tools designed to guard against such negative interactions – be sure to seek them out where possible.
For more information about how to navigate the world of instant messaging and online chat rooms, be sure to see Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide too.