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Is Your Kid Video Chatting with Strangers?

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Imagine a world where you never had to leave your house to hook up with a complete stranger ... Wait: No need to imagine it, we're already living it!

Girl video chat

Lori Getz: Web 2.0 gave us the ability to interact with those we know -- and those we don't -- in a whole new way. Making friends online is easy, what with social-networking sites and multi-player live gaming.

But now we enter what I believe to be Web 3.0: The next generation of social networking -- and it's all video based!

For some time now, I've been watching the growing trend of people moving from text chatting to video chatting. It started with iChat and Skype, which gave users the ability to stream live video to one another. Then Stickam.com popped up; it's a video-based social-networking site that allows multiple users to connect in one video chat room. You can be an active participant or just a lurker; it's completely voyeuristic in nature. (During the 2008 election, you could watch Obama Girl on Stickam as she viewed the election coverage.) And last week on Stickam, I watched three young girls wait for 800 lurkers to enter their chat room -- at which point they promised to "flash" their audience. (When I realized what they were doing, I sent all three girls a private message, begging them to stop. They publicly called me a narc and booted me out of the chat room.)

There are several of these video-chat sites popping up, including tinychat.com and Chatroulette.com. Tinychat is very similar to Stickam, but Chatroulette is different: You enter a room with two blank video windows -- one is labeled "Stranger," the other is labeled "You." You then click a button and are randomly connected with a total stranger who is also playing. Now you two can video chat. At any time you can click NEXT, and the virtual wheel will spin again, connecting you with someone new. (The site is an upgraded video version of another chat room called Omegle.com.)

Two years ago, I would have said that the chat-room trend seemed to be decreasing. Teens were moving in the direction of social networks. But as video-based chats are surfacing, the trend is moving in the opposite direction.

When I asked a group of senior girls, "Why Chatroulette?" one of them responded, "Without video, people can pretend to be anyone they want. But I can see who I'm talking to with Chatroulette -- so it's totally safe and easier than trying to meet people at a party!"

For the record, I do not agree with their assessment that it's "totally safe!"

One of the senior girls (who is 17) admitted that she'd met her boyfriend on Chatroulette, and said they're "very much in love." However, he's 35! She most likely wouldn't have met a 35-year-old man at a high-school party. But online, it's easy to do.

Not everyone on Chatroulette will be looking to fall in love with the person she's randomly selected to chat with. But think about it this way: Would you allow your teenager to go to a bar or an adult singles' mixer to meet new friends (not to drink, but just to meet people)? If your answer is anywhere in the vicinity of "That's inappropriate," you may want to talk to your teen about video chatting online.



next: Who's Too Old for an Eating Disorder?
13 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jason Goldtrap February 24, 2010, 6:53 AM

I’ve been online since 1994. IMO Kids should not be online until they’re 17. It should not even be available for school work. The internet is mostly a time waster. It shortens attention spans and sets up an expectation for constant entertainment. Give kids a ball and bat and open the door to their imagination.

Mary February 24, 2010, 9:51 AM

I would like to inform everyone of the common Chatroulette axiom that at least 3 out of every 4 people you “meet” on the site are naked men masturbating furiously. Have fun on the internet!

ejes February 24, 2010, 9:53 AM

The only difference between this and “real life” is that this has full true anonymity - 17 year old kids, who are interested in that sort of thing, can EASILY meet older men IN REAL LIFE.

As far as Jason “the nazi” Goldtrap, it’s obvious that he can’t be trusted on the internet, it’s not “just a time waster” but the biggest resource for communication and idea sharing that has ever been in existence. Limiting our young from this incredible tool is akin to not teaching our kids to read in case they read romance novels or “twilight”.

In addition, many of the innovations come from the young people on the internet, often from people younger than 17. Therefore, by denying them you would also effectively reduce and probably kill most innovation.

The fact is, yes, there is SEX in the world, and yes there are people who are less than scrupulous; but limiting your children from the internet because of these people is like not letting your kids cross the road because some people are bad drivers.

It’s not realistic, nor is it progressive.

Instead, TEACH YOUR KIDS TO BE SAFE.

Just like teaching them to cross the road, teach them safety and hope that a bad driver doesn’t run them over, and hope that they know enough to stay safe.

TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILTIY FOR YOUR OWN KIDS and don’t expect the reset of the world to raise them.

FOOLS February 24, 2010, 9:55 AM

FOOLS I TELL U FOOLS!

CaroHaus April 9, 2010, 11:25 PM

Hallo Leute,

wer von euch ist oefter auf http://www.chatpig.com zu finden?
Die Leute dort Nexten sich so schnell da bleibt oft kaum Zeit sich richtig kennenzulernen.

Bussi eure Caro

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Gene November 23, 2010, 12:39 AM

Awesome!Try it local chat room http://www.tohla.com talk with strangers.

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