Family Safe Computers
Instant Messaging & Chat Rooms

Instant Messaging (IM) and Chat Rooms utilize the Internet network to operate. This allows for instant communication between two computers anywhere in the world. With this principle, services like IM and Chat Rooms have flourished.

Instant Messaging (IM or IMing) is a service allowing users to send typed messages, pictures, files, and live video with sound to a recipient based on their screen name. This exchange can go back and forth as long as both parties desire. It provides a personal way of communicating with friends and other known contacts and is very popular among teenagers as well as many adults. In order to use this service a user must download a free program and install it on their computer. There are several available with some of the more popular ones being Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, and AIM (America Online IM). The program handles all the communication and provides a window for the user to type and receive messages.

Web sites like and offer membership “ID” accounts that allow a user to register and build a simple profile in exchange for the use of web services such as free e-mail, game playing, and online shopping. Part of these offerings also includes Instant Messaging and Chat Room services. Once logged into the web site a user can seamlessly maneuver through all application options. The web site also keeps track of user’s activities in order to provide a personalized experience on future visits. There are no verification efforts to make sure the person who creates an account is who they say they are. This allows for the anonymity many predators desire when they can pose as a much younger person in order to meet others.

With this multiple service concept in mind, a teenager who registers for a free Yahoo e-mail account will also have access to all the other features. The personal information listed during the initial registration becomes part of the teen’s online profile for that service therefore it is always important to think twice before entering any personal information within online profile registration pages. Keep it all generic.

A “buddy list” or “messenger list” is a small active window inside an IM program that lists screen name contacts a user wants to consider as a friend. It allows a quick communication by clicking the name and typing a message. Lists also indicate if that user is signed on to the service by placing some type of icon next to the name. It is very common for teenagers to have multiple names in their list. For safety reasons teens should set options in their account to only allow contacts from users on their buddy or messenger list (referred to as block or ignore people not on list). They should also never allow files to be accepted on their computer to reduce potential virus threats from a friend’s computer.

A chat room is very similar to Instant Messaging (IM) but instead of one-to-one communication, users log on to a themed based virtual room and communicate with several people only known by their screen names. By sending typed messages to the room all connected users can read and respond like a big online get together. There are numerous chat topics to choose from such as: hobbies, television shows, boy bands, sports, politics, health issues, and relationships. Basically if there is an interest, there is probably a chat room available. While watching chat room dialog, users will likely notice most postings are just typed advertisements for other web sites and similar things with very few legitimate conversations taking place. It is more of a place for users to post their name and then wait for someone to have an Instant Message session with them which is also known as “going private.”

As mentioned in the previous section, many chat rooms are seamless with IM services with regard to certain web sites. Once a user has an account they can travel between both worlds with the click of a mouse. “Yahoo Chat” is one example. While using “Yahoo Instant Message” a user can simply drop down a menu and select “Yahoo Chat” and instantly be presented with a list of available topics and corresponding rooms. Other examples are “AIM Chat” and “Google Talk.” There are, however, many other chat room web sites that focus on chatting exclusively and are not tied with major search engine web sites.

A chat room window basically combines people who will only know each other based on their profile and registered screen name. If a person decides they want to “go private” with someone in the room, they can click that person’s name and ask to send an Instant Message. At that point, both users are simultaneously still in the room while engaging in a private IM session in a separate pop up window. Predators use this feature to target users they meet in chat rooms. Additionally, once a predator has a screen name written down he or she can send future Instant Messages to that person by simply opening the IM service, typing in the name and then typing a message. Many also send requests to be added to the potential victim’s buddy or contact list.

Try it yourself (learn what it is about) - use the service to communicate with your children
Use generic screen names and profile information so predators cannot use it to gather information. For example screen names like "boytoy17" or "soccrgrl13" are very inviting to predators because the name itself provides an image into that user¡¦s life (soccrgrl13 it likely a soccer player and either 13 years old or it¡¦s her jersey number)
Require children to save IM and chat history for parent review
Monitor child use (stay involved)
Set preferences to only allow IM's from Buddy or Messenger List, this blocks messages from users you do not know - especially predators who may try to send an IM while in a chat session
Ask your child about each screen name on their list at least once a week to see how they know that person. If they only know them through online correspondence delete the name.
No Web Cam. Almost all Instant Messaging services allow video and audio to be sent through the connected session. If there is no camera on your computer it can't be used.

PARENT FYI - If you don't know how to manipulate the above settings ask your children or a friend for help. Anyone with some basic computer experience will likely be able to help you locate where to go. If you still can't find it, look for words like "preferences", "privacy", or "options" within the program windows.


When using IM and chat rooms it is common to use abbreviations for words or phrases that take too much time to type. This type of abbreviating almost becomes a cryptic language of its own preventing unfamiliar users from understanding what is actually being typed. This puts parents at a disadvantage even if they are watching over their child's shoulder. There are even codes for telling others a parent is watching.

IM Code deciphers can be found by searching the Internet or using the following websites:


These programs record key strokes of computers and can run in the background without users knowing. These can be used to see what your children are typing including their passwords. Note... We do not endorse any of the below programs nor do we guarantee that they are legitimate and we are not liable if used. We are only providing a link to their download page for your consideration.

KGB Free Keylogger 4.02
LightLogger 1
Actual Keylogger 2.4
VividKeyLogger 1

Internet Safety Day
Instant Messaging & Chat Rooms