• E-Mail, Instant Messages, Chat Rooms, and Kids

    By:  Lisa Khoury, School Psychologist/Student Assistance Specialist


    Middle school is a time where communication and social issues between kids becomes a high priority.  Face-to-face contact, passing notes, and phone calls are among the types of communication tools available.  E-mail, instant messages, and chat rooms are another venue for this communication filling their social need.   This frequent communication is a normal, common phenomenon among the middle school population.  The hard part for parents is to make sure we monitor our children’s communications to ensure that they remain positive rather than negative.


    The unique aspect to e-mail, instant messages, and chat rooms is that it is a more anonymous, less personal way to communicate.  No one can see you, with e-mail you can take your time writing a response (and even edit before sending), you can “pretend” you are someone else if you use someone else’s sign-on name, you might feel more “free” and less inhibited to write things that you wouldn’t dare say in person or on the phone (these even might be “untruths” or rumors), and kids may even feel less accountable for the content of their messages.  Sometimes, with instant messaging, the stream of communication is traveling so fast that one can get caught up in the flow, causing impulsive responses which might be regretted later.  Also with computer communication, one or a few kids are able to reach and impact large numbers of kids at the same time. 


    Thus, the addition of e-mail, instant messaging, and chat rooms has accelerated the rate of communication and communication-related problems among middle school students.  For these reasons it is important for parents to consider the following guidelines:


    1.      Monitor you child while they are on the computer.  The easiest way to do this is to keep the computer in a “common area” such as family room, rather than in a child’s bedroom.  Find out what they are writing and to whom, (they won’t like this, just tell them it is part of your job!)

    2.      Limit the amount of time your child has access to the computer.  One way to do this is to set a time limit such as 30 minutes on weekdays and 45-60 minutes on weekends.  You might also say that every minute on the computer needs to be matched in reading time!

    3.     Talk to you children about the rules (protocol) for computer communication, that they are the same for the other modes of communication.  These rules would include, always tell the truth, don’t spread rumors, respect others, etc.

    4.      Ask your child if they have seen or have been the target of inappropriate e-mail or instant messages.  How did they feel, what did they do, what happened as a result, what could they have done differently?

    5.      Strategize with your child about the choices available to them if they find themselves in that position.

    6.      Initiate contact with the school (counselor, psychologist, social worker, administration, etc.) if you learn about inappropriate messages.  Parents may feel they shouldn’t bother school personnel with problems or issues that occur out of school however; these issues often spill into school and may affect your child’s behavior and/or academic performance in some way.  It is important to let us know, we want to help!
    Click here for an article about Instant Messaging and a technology symposium for parents on March 14,2009.