When I was a kid, we used to go over to our friends houses, knock on their door, and ‘call on them.’ Literally, we would say, ‘Hi, I’m here to call on .’ That’s just what we did. Occasionally, if the friend lived a little further away, we would call them by phone. But that was rare.
Things are different now. Unfortunately, kids don’t do this nearly as much anymore. In fact, instead of playing outside until it gets dark or making up games that they forget the rules to the next day, kids spend most of their time sitting inside on the computer. This time is often spent doing something called instant messaging (IM), with one of the most popular forms to date of this fad being MSN Messenger.
If we allow it to, instant messaging can be a danger to our children. It can be fun for kids to communicate with their friends sometimes on the weekends and to chat now and then. The problem comes when children occupy a great deal of their time on MSN; when kids allow MSN to suck them in and sidetrack them from other things in life, MSN is a problem.
MSN also presents some real dangers to children. For one, children can be a little too open and honest while online. This has the potential danger to open children to online predators. Secondly, children have the option to fill out profiles and accept or deny contacts from joining their list of people to talk to. Again, this has the potential to open the door to pedophiles.
Another danger of children and MSN Messenger is online-bullying. Online-bullying is the newest form of bullying that threatens school aged children. A growing number of children are becoming victims of this trend.
A young cousin of mine who is in the sixth grade was the first person who I was aware of that fell victim to this type of bullying. ‘Kristy’ went to a public school and, like many eleven and twelve-year-old girls, took part in her fair share of gossiping, joking, mocking, and judging. The trend with this age of girls is usually that they pick one girl to prey on, victimize her for awhile, until something happens that they lose their interest and pick someone else. Unfortunately, for years, this has been the trend and, unfortunately, with MSN the victimization has worsened by means of alternative methods.
When the girls that she would have only a week before considered her friends began to pick on her, Kristy was pretty upset. But, being girls of a new generation, the bullying didn’t stop at school. In fact, the bullying continued on into the evening and weekends by means of MSN Messenger. Kristy was harassed, humiliated, and slandered via MSN. Her already fragile ego, as an 11 year-old-girl, was further bruised through this new method.
Kristy eventually blew the whistle. She told her parents who, in turn, talked to her teachers. The teachers watched what was going on in the classroom, but with the majority of the problem being online, there was little the teachers could do. With this trend being new and an increasingly widespread problem, neither the parents nor the school knew how else to help. Kristy was instructed to block friends from her MSN list and spend less time instant messaging. But, the gossip continued to spread about her from friend to friend online. Eventually, Kristy had all that she could take and asked her parents to allow her to switch schools. She did.
This story is becoming all the more common as so many North American children use the unmonitored MSN messenger.
To prevent this kind of scenario, and to reduce the dangers of potential problems for your children, be sure to keep your children’s internet use in check. Know who your kids are talking to and monitor the amount of time they spend on the computer. If you believe that your children are spending too much time on MSN, put your foot down. Be sure that you have clearly laid out rules for your children’s internet use and have punishments accordingly.
To ensure your child’s safety, Microsoft suggests the following five rules and warnings to discuss with your child:‘
- Keep your personal information to yourself.
- People may not be who they say they are.
- Don’t open attachments from strangers.
- Tell an adult you trust if something online makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Meeting online strangers alone is very dangerous.
Other suggested warnings or rules to discuss with your children include :‘
- Never talk to anyone who has an email address you do not know.
- Do not use MSN or IM to spread rumours, gossip, or tell mean things to one another.
- As a parent, you should review your child’s MSN or IM list to ensure that you know all of your child’s contacts. Do this often as children are constantly adding new friends to their lists.
These warnings or rules are increasingly important to discuss with your children as they begin to use MSN. Another potential hazard to children as they use MSN younger and younger all of the time is the loss of the ability to properly spell words. After the earlier subjects discussed, this may seem a great deal less important, but it is still a risk for children on MSN.
This is an example of a portion of an MSN conversation:
- ‘OMG. Nice name, LOL.’
- ‘Hey, r u there?’
- ‘Yup. But I wasn’t b4.’
- ‘O wait’brb.’
- ‘sorry dude’gtg.’
For some, the exchange that has taken place in this conversation is quite clear, but for others, the conversation that went on is nothing more than letters and symbols. The more kids use instant messaging, the more they pick up this type of jargon. Teachers can attest to the fact that children start to use this type of IM-ese in their school work as well. It has the potential to become a problem.
There are a few positives for children who use instant messaging, such as the ability to practice typing, increase their speed typing, and engage their multi-tasking abilities. Though there are benefits to MSN Messenger, as it is an easy way to share files and quickly discuss things online without having to pick up a phone, there are few benefits to children using it.
As parents, we should encourage our children to limit their use of instant messaging and enjoy the outdoors, playing with friends, and the use of the imagination like many children before them.