Through e-mail, users can easily send and receive messages. These messages may also have text, audio, and picture files attached. Signing up for an e-mail account is simple, as most services offer them for free and do not check the identities of users. This allows cyberbullies or scam artists to anonymously send harassing messages or spam. Sometimes these messages contain viruses, scams, or other inappropriate content, so trusted adults should warn children to be wary of e-mails from unknown people.
Instant messaging programs allow users to exchange real-time messages with people from a list of contacts, also known as a “buddy” list. Children may not know the true identities of their buddies, as IM accounts can be acquired anonymously. Trusted adults should review children’s buddy lists for unknown contacts, and talk to them about the identities of the people on the lists. Trusted adults should also learn some of the chat acronyms, such as POS (parent over shoulder) and A/S/L (age/sex/location), which children use to communicate over IM. This will help you be aware of anyone saying anything inappropriate to your child.
Chat rooms are online hang-out spots where anyone can talk about anything—current events, books, and other common interests. Users often do not know each other in real life, so it is important that trusted adults keep a close eye on the content of any conversations.
Chat rooms offer features which allow users to chat through private, one-on-one messages. Predators may use this to entice children into conversations about sex and offline meetings. Parents and guardians should be aware of secretive behavior, such as a child minimizing the screen when an adult enters the room.