There is a new spin on an old game, called Chatroulette. Young adults and teenagers enter a web site to randomly video chat with individuals as they pop up on the screen. Sometimes a black screen is seen as the person either has no camera or has chosen not to reveal themselves. Similarly, sometimes audio is unavailable and conversation is through text. Like Russian roulette, this is a dangerous game. A young woman in high school recently told me the site was "scarring." Imagine your child getting a glimpse of pedophiles masturbating or enticing young people with conversation. Sexually inappropriate behavior is widespread. Often young people are displaying themselves and doing dangerous stunts with their body. The problem is that our youth does not see the risk. What are the dangers?
• Exposure to pornographic and/or disturbing images that can remain in one's head long after the picture is gone.
• Revealing self disclosure that could potentially put you in the path of violence or harm.
• Age inappropriate conversations between people ill-equipped for such a dialogue.
• Excess time spent surfing the contacts which then interferes with participation in academics, a real social life, extracurricular activity, and exercise.
• The thrill of the unknown is addictive and excessive, sustained involvement is always looming.
On the other hand, with Chatroulette, there is actually an opportunity for social networking that can serve to unite youth from diversified cultures, geography, and status. Imagine a youth from the Palestinian Liberation movement having a dialogue with a Jewish kid from suburban United States. Think of all the high school and college students discussing schools, careers, and opportunities. It does present an opportunity to start endless conversations as you can chose to move on within seconds. The socially anxious person could have plenty of opportunity to hone their conversational skills. Similarly, finding a person that you actually enjoy talking to presents an opportunity for social intimacy in a world where time for such activity is limited.
The question is which is greater, the risk or the potential gain? The vote is out, but as adults we must be aware of the threat and make sure our children are safe guarded against it. Do you know who your child is talking to on their computer? Find out!
The reality is older adolescents and young adults will have access to these sites. We can encourage our kids to protect themselves by:
• Have a no exposure rule- both with yourself and in viewing others.
• Don't self-disclose specifics about your life. Never give the who, what, where, and when. You never want to give any type of information so that a person can find you outside of the chat room. That helps to keep you safe and in control.
• If you start to feel uncomfortable with the conversation, recognize you have the right to leave the chat room. Listen to your gut.
• Make real life the priority!