Internet chat sites can offer your kids more than conversation

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Kids are inside more this time of year due to weather or other reasons, and many may turn to the Internet for entertainment.

Chat sites such as are an open anything-goes forum to talk to "complete strangers," but it could be a forum for disaster?  What is this site all about, and do similar sites exist that your kids may be logging on to? How do you stop them from accessing them?

I asked Jonesboro Police Detective Ernest Ward why these sites are so attractive.

Ward, "It's sexual, it's psychological, it's social, it's curiosity, Every one has a different reason. I don't know what to say about how to police it as far as on the Internet but to do that in the homes."

The most common sites you may have heard of are Funyo, Camzap, Chat Roulette and Omegle. Each of these offer opportunities to "chat with strangers" via text or webcam.

Ward, "There's a safety issue with it. You know when you go to sites and you give to much personal information. You don't know who you're talking to, you don't know who reads it."

With his webcam focused on his badge, Ward went on a quick tour of Chat Roulette, most users were men and most in foreign countries, supposedly. I was surprised that many even knowing he was a police officer wanted to stay on and chat. Many of the questions were quite personal but the vast majority of "strangers" took a quick look and clicked off.

Realizing how easy it would be for a child or teen to access these sites Ward says there is software out there to block them and also Proxy services.

Ward, "When you connect to the Internet and your high speed Internet through what ever company it happens to be . It connects to them and then goes through the proxy service and the proxy service filters unwanted items."

Both Suddenlink Cable and Ritter Communications offer Internet filtering at no charge to their customers. Suddenlink provides a hand out that shows how to set up the filters.

Shanna French from Ritter told me what they have available.

French, "It's a program called F Secure. And basically what this program provides is parental controls."

French says you can restrict access times, content, and web site access.

"And you can monitor and provide reports to show what sites my children have been on and this is a free service we provide to customers."

I asked French if there were any regulations requiring Internet providers to provide blocking solutions.

French, "There are lot of scary things that are on the Internet today and cable companies do not have to provide security gates against that content. A lot of us have chosen to protect our children from some Internet content."

Unfortunately even though you may choke the Internet access to your home Internet there are many kids with cell phones that also have the Internet. Like your Internet providers you need to check with your phone providers to learn about parental controls.

Detective Ward suggests that before giving your kids a lap-top or a phone with Internet access, you need to carry it around for a couple of weeks to find out how it works and what it is capable of.

Ward, "Why would you give them a piece of technology that they understand how works better than you do?"

Ward says that many times by going on to these chat rooms young people can be exposed to child pornography or other things that could result in an arrest, jail time being placed on a sexual predators list or other things.

The best prevention is to keep your computers out of the bedrooms and in your vision so you know what your child is looking at.

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