Chat and Instant Messaging

Chat is a popular application that has seen revived use of late.  Chat allows immediate mutual correspondence in very brief fashion via computer, smartphone, and other connected device.  Chat rooms have become very popular among young people. Chat has contributed to the negative development of communication, replacing real conversations and encounters, and creating a superficial and shallow culture.  Chat enables communication with multiple contacts, but harms the quality of relationships.  Chat users utilize many abbreviations, slang and colloquialisms and poor grammar, leading to the misuse of language in other areas.  Given that 40% of interpersonal communication is conveyed through body language, communication is greatly affected when occurring through chat.  Children using chat excessively lag in their language development and ability to communicate because they do not experience enough face to face interaction.

Chat becomes dangerous when communication occurs with strangers.  Often adults pose as children and correspond with kids about intimate matters, usually sexual, causing emotionally and mental harm.  Chat is a common means used by pedophiles to reach victims.  In Israel exist a number of instances of physical and sexual abuse have occurred, most notably in 2001 when a young boy, Ophir Rachum, was kidnapped and killed by a terrorist who tricked Ophir to meet him using Chat.  The danger of chat is not easily evident, and only over time is the true damage discovered – often when it is too late to treat, as in the cases of anorexia or suicide.

Identity theft is also a danger on chat.  The perpetrator hacks into and takes over a chat account and then uses its contacts and friends and impersonating the true account holder's persona. This is especially dangerous, because the person contacted has no idea a stranger is behind the scene.

Chat occurs on game sites, in "virtual worlds" sites, in forums, social networks and more.  Even on some protected children's sites, where there is supervision over the vocabulary used, there have been cases of exploitation of children.  

With the proliferation of smartphones, chat has reached a new level with the use of WhatsApp, a simple and convenient messaging application that enables the creation of a group of friends and the sending of instant messages, pictures or videos.  Here, as in Facebook, the thrill effect of simply using the application exists. Correspondence via WhatsApp is experiential, and gradually draws people, particularly youth, into its overuse, preventing focus on oneself or one's activities, or on others.

Advice on How to Use Chat

1. Develop a child's awareness for healthy interpersonal communication.  Refrain from utilizing written communication to avoid speech communication and face to face meetings.

2. Foster an awareness among children about the risks of communicating with strangers and of identity theft.

3. Allow children to correspond only with people they know.

4. Teach children to protect their privacy and to not disclose personal information such as full name, address, phone, email, the name of the school they attend.

5. When scheduling an appointment via chat, verify beyond doubt that the message comes from a familiar source and not an impostor.

6.  If you suspect that a child is at-risk and s/he does not cooperate with you, utilize chat tracking software. See recommendations page on this site. 

7.  Learn how to neutralize the "new message received" sounds and functions on computers and smartphones. Take control of how and when you desire to learn of new messages, and how and when to respond to them.

8.  Discourage children from sending casual and unnecessary messages.

9.  Chat is addictive.  Take note of the nature of chat use, and of the time spent using it.  If you suspect your child is addicted to chat, call our hotline to consult with us.