By Isaac Friday
CHAT ROOMS are “areas” on the Internet where users can have live, two-way conversations via text messages. Chat rooms can accommodate large numbers of people, who can read and respond to each other’s messages.
Some chat rooms are particularly appealing to youthful Internet users. Millions of young people from a variety of cultures exchange opinions daily on almost any subject. Some schools now tap this global resource. For example, with their teacher’s supervision, students in the United States might discuss social issues with fellow students in Spain, England, or elsewhere. Students may even chat about their class project with a qualified engineer, chemist, or another expert.
Many people who visit chat rooms, though, are not there to discuss academic subjects. If you have access to the Internet, what dangers should you be aware of?
A Hunting Ground for Sexual Predators
“I was talking with some people in a chat room,” says Abigail, “when a man asked me if I knew any 14-year-olds. He wanted to have sex with them. He said that he was willing to give them money for sex.”
Abigail’s experience is not an isolated one. The problem of online predators is so widespread that some governments have produced guides on how youths can be protected. For example, a publication of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States warns of individuals who immediately engage in sexually explicit talk. It also warns of those who “gradually seduce their targets through the use of attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts.”
Describing the specific methods used by some of these predators, the FBI guide says: “They listen to and empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children. These individuals attempt to lower children’s inhibitions gradually by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations.”
It is not just perverted adults who pose a danger. You also need to beware of youths who are ignorant of or who deride the Bible’s moral standards. Consider the experience of a young man named Cody. He was chatting with other youths online when a girl invited him into a private chat area. She then asked him a sexually suggestive question. Cody had the self-control to terminate the conversation immediately.
Because of a natural interest in sex, you may find it extremely difficult to react the way Cody did. Peter, mentioned earlier, admits: “I thought I had enough self-control to terminate a chat session if the subject turned to sex. But time and again, I found myself hanging on and chatting about sexual subjects. I felt bad later.” You may wonder, though, ‘If I hide who I am in a chat room, is there really any harm in talking about sex online?’ Are Online Sex Discussions Harmful?
The Bible talks openly about sex. (Proverbs 5:18, 19) Admittedly, humans have an increased interest in sex during youth. So you should talk about sex. You need answers to your questions on this important subject.# However, the way you satisfy your curiosity about sexual matters will have a profound impact on your happiness, both present and future.
If you choose to chat online about sex, even if it is with people who say they are your friends, your experience could well end up being like that of a young man described in the Bible. Out of curiosity, he wandered near the house of a prostitute. At first, she just talked to him. Once his desire was aroused, though, talk was not enough. “All of a sudden he is going after her, like a bull that comes even to the slaughter, . . . just as a bird hastens into the trap.”-Proverbs 7:22, 23.
Similarly, talking about sex online could easily lead to your going after greater gratification. “I was chatting online with someone,” recalls a teen named Philip, “when an immoral picture popped up on my screen. The person I was chatting with had sent it to my computer.” Once your desire to consider sexually explicit material has been aroused, you may be tempted to pursue your interest further, such as in an adult chat room.% Many who fall into the trap of viewing pornography go on to commit immorality and suffer the inevitable consequences.-Galatians 6:7, 8.
People who want to talk about sex with you online do not have your best interests at heart. These strangers want to lure you into immoral talk-and possibly actions-to gratify their own desires.^ In an attempt to protect his son from a sexually exploitive person, King Solomon wrote: “Keep your way far off from alongside her, and do not get near to the entrance of her house, that you may not give to others your dignity, . . . that strangers may not satisfy themselves with your power.” (Proverbs 5:8-10) The principle behind this advice might be applied this way: Do not get near chat rooms where sexual topics are discussed so that you do not give your dignity to strangers who just want to satisfy themselves at your expense. “Those Who Hide What They Are”
You may say, though, that you do not want to talk about sex online. Like Peter and Abigail, mentioned previously, you might see a chat room as a place where you can express yourself anonymously, without fear of embarrassment.** Even so, there is another danger that you should be aware of.
The anonymous nature of chat rooms could tempt you into becoming deceitful. Abigail says: “I would start conversations with people and then take on a personality to fit the conversation.” Like Abigail, you may be tempted to assume a different personality to fit in with a certain chat room group. You might conform to their standards of language or adopt their interests in an attempt to make new friends. Conversely, you may see a chat room as a place to express ideas and feelings that you think your parents or friends would disapprove of. Either way, you end up deceiving one group or the other. By pretending online to be someone you are not, you are deceiving your chat room contacts. On the other hand, if you do not express your real feelings and ideas to your family and friends, you are deceiving them.
Online discussions can be dangerous
A teenage boy chatting online with a woman
While chat rooms are a relatively recent phenomenon, the tendency for humans to lie and deceive is as old as history itself. The Bible reveals that the original liar, Satan the Devil, pioneered the tactic used by some chat room visitors. He disguised his real identity before telling his first lie. (Genesis 3:1-5; Revelation 12:9, 10) You can avoid being duped by liars by following King David’s example. “I have not sat with men of untruth,” he wrote, “and with those who hide what they are I do not come in.”-Psalm 26:4.
As noted earlier, some chat rooms may serve a useful purpose. Nevertheless, youths who want to please Jehovah must exercise extreme caution in their use of this modern communication method. If you need to access one, such as for a school project, ask your parents or perhaps another mature adult to sit in on your session. A future article will highlight two additional reasons why you should be cautious about logging on to chat rooms. It will also discuss how you can deal with specific problems that might arise even if you are cautious about their use.
* Some names have been changed.
# The book Questions Young People Ask-Answers That Work contains sound, Bible-based advice regarding sex before marriage, masturbation, and other similar topics.
% Some chat rooms classed as adult theoretically limit access to those over a certain age. This is usually because the topics discussed and the pictures shared are pornographic. However, surveys reveal that youths as young as nine lie about their age to gain access to adult chat rooms.
^ Since you cannot verify whom you are conversing with in a chat room, the person you are talking to may be pretending to be of the opposite sex, though actually being the same sex as you are.
** A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety recommends that users never reveal their name, address, or phone number to strangers they meet in a chat room!