While social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have attracted a solid teen fan base, chat rooms, which have been around since the late 90s, are still a popular mode of connection. Teens can join a chat spot and discuss anything from dating to homework -- and open up the conversation to others their age all around the country or world. When used safely, chat spots can be an effective way for teens to enlarge their social world and gain new perspectives.
1. Teen Spot
Teen Spot has a bright, colorful homepage displaying teen-friendly news and articles. Stories cover teen celebrities, summer jobs, camp, kissing on the first date and other topics. Under the "Chat" icon, teens can choose among rooms based on their interests. "Alternative" is for gay, lesbian, or bisexual teens. "Lounge" and "Lobby" are for general chatting. In "Location-Based," they can connect with teenagers from other countries. Also available are "Christian," for those looking to chat with others of the Christian faith; "Advice," for teens looking to have others weigh in on a sticky or confusing problem; and "Science," for those interested in everything from astronomy to zoology.
Zobe has a clean, modern design with several unusual features. Users can earn "Karma" points by being friendly to others, which then raises their social score and enables them access to other special features. On Zobe, chatters can copy and paste their chat URL on Facebook or Instant Messenger and invite friends to join them via those domains. Also cool: the site has lots of emoticons that teens are sure to get a kick out of, including ones meaning "love," "sleeping," "gossip," "thumbs-up" or " thumbs-down."
3. Teen Chat
Similar to Zobe, Teen Chat also has a Karma system, which the creators believe rewards positive members of the community. Teen Chat lets users earn tokens through good Karma, which teens can choose to "gift" to others. Other fun features: Teen Chat lets users send private messages, and use hash tags in larger chat rooms so it's easier to track the subtopics of a conversation.
4. Teen Chat Center
Teen Chat Center allows teens to set up a profile and register a nickname, and has several moderated rooms teens can choose among. "Teen Flirt" and "Teen Chat" are larger rooms, generally with 100 or more users, while "Teen Connection" and "Chat Center" are geared toward those who are more comfortable in a smaller crowd. Also unusual is Teen Chat Center's "Younger Teens Chat" for those ages 13 to 15, which is heavily moderated. Teens might also enjoy the free email service through this site, firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Chat Room Safety
While chat rooms can provide a social outlet for teens, it's important they're vigilant and aware that predators lurk in cyberspace, notes Larry Magid, a technology journalist and Internet safety advocate who has served on the Harvard Law School Berkman Center's Internet Safety Technology Task Force. If your teen expresses interest in joining a chat room, remind her to not share personal information she wouldn't want the public to know, including her full name, address and phone number; to avoid getting together with anyone she meets online -- but if she must, to meet in public and bring a group of friends; and that if someone says something creepy or that gives her a bad feeling, to not respond and block that person.
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