Extracts from a booklet published by Home Office Communication Directorate - Dec 2001


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What Can I Do?

What if something unpleasant happens while they are actually in a chat room?

They can leave the chat room.  Alternatively, chat rooms usually offer the option to block messages from other users.  So if someone repeatedly types things your child does not like they can block them from their computer screen.  Some chat rooms also let you report abusive behaviour by clicking on an appropriate link.

How do you tell if a chat room is suitable?

Chat rooms are given names, such as "Teenage Romance".  Teenagers should be encouraged to use only those rooms that are appropriate to their age.  This is because so-called "adult" chat rooms are sexually explicit, where people indulge in what is known as "cybersex".  This can be anything from talking dirty to the exchange of explicit or pornographic material, including the use of images on webcams.  Although it is not necessarily illegal, it is definitely an area for adults only.

How can I encourage my child to use appropriate chat rooms?

At the top of your internet browser, which is the technology that lets you navigate the internet, there will probably be the word "Favourites".  This lets you add to a folder web addresses that you often use or do not want to forget.  You could save the address of child-friendly chat rooms here and agree with your child that he or she will use only these.

Wouldn't it be better to avoid using the internet altogether?

Not at all. Despite the potential for problems, it really is an amazing tool for learning and information.  Knowing how to use it effectively is increasingly important and necessary.   What's more, chatting online, or Instant Messaging can be a way to cut your phone bill if you have free or low-cost internet access in the evenings or at weekends.  If you overreact, your child may clam up or simply use the internet elsewhere. Just drive home the safety messages so your child can feel confident about protecting him or herself.

If I see something illegal or suspicious is there anyone I can report it to?

Yes.  If you think your child is being contacted by a paedophile call the police.  If you come across material you think is illegal - eg child pornography - contact the Internet Watch Foundation.  This is an industry-funded body which seeks to have illegal material removed from the internet and refers it on to the police.  You can report it online at

Alternatively, contact the police Child Pornography Information Line website:

Why don't ISPs (Internet Service Providers) do something about chat rooms?

ISP's provide the connection to the internet just as a telephone company provides access to the phone lines.  They cannot control what other companies put on the internet any more than a telephone company can control what people say on the phone but some ISPs run their own, sometimes more regulated, chat rooms and they and other chat service providers should be happy to explain any safety features which their services have.  Don't be afraid to ask.


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