CHAT ROOMS-like any other area where strangers mingle-contain dangers that you need to be aware of. To illustrate, if you visited a big city, you would logically endeavor to minimize any threat to your safety by identifying and then avoiding hazardous areas.
The same logic applies if you must visit a chat room. In the September 22 issue of Awake! two dangers inherent to many chat rooms were discussed, namely, the possibility of your coming in contact with sexual predators and the temptation for you to become a deceiver. There are other dangers that are worth considering. But, first, how are chat rooms organized?
Organized for a Purpose
Chat rooms are usually organized according to topics that attract certain groups of people. Some might be set up for enthusiasts of a particular sport or hobby. Others may be devoted to discussing a television show. Still others might cater to people claiming to belong to a particular religion.
If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, curiosity might prompt you to visit a chat room that claims to be a place where Witness youths from around the world can make new friends. Finding friends among youths who share your faith is a desirable goal. However, these chat rooms harbor insidious dangers for Christians. What kind of dangers?
Introducing Moral Corruption
“I was in a chat room with a group of people who I thought were all Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says a youth named Tyler. “After a while, though, some of these people started disparaging our beliefs. Before long, it was evident that they were really apostates.” They were individuals who deliberately tried to undermine the morals of those who they claimed were their fellow believers.
God’s Son, Jesus Christ, warned that some of those who followed him would turn on their companions. (Matthew 24:48-51; Acts 20:29, 30) The apostle Paul called such individuals in his time false brothers and says that they “sneaked in” to do harm to those in the Christian congregation. (Galatians 2:4) The Bible writer Jude says that they “slipped in” with the goal of “turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct.” (Jude 4) He also describes them as “rocks hidden below water.”-Jude 12.
Notice that both Paul and Jude identify the stealthy methods often used by apostates. These Bible writers noted that the apostates “sneaked in” or “slipped in” with the purpose of morally corrupting those in the Christian congregation. Today, chat rooms offer such corrupt ones the perfect cloak for their devious endeavors. Like rocks hidden below water, these false Christians mask their real intent beneath a pretense of concern for Witness youths. But their goal is to shipwreck the faith of unwary ones.-1 Timothy 1:19, 20.
This journal, as well as other material produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses, has repeatedly warned of this particular danger.# Therefore, anyone you meet in a chat room ostensibly set up for Jehovah’s Witnesses is, at best, a person who disregards such counsel. Do you really want as friends those who choose to downplay Bible-based direction?-Proverbs 3:5, 6; 15:5.
The Trap of Isolation
Another aspect of chat rooms that you do well to consider is the amount of time they consume. José, mentioned at the start of this article, says: “I sometimes became so involved in chat room discussions that I missed meals.”
You may not become as absorbed in chat rooms as José. However, to spend time chatting online, you must buy out time from some other activity. The area prone to suffer immediately may not be your homework or your household chores. The first casualty may be communication with your family. Adrian, who lives in Spain, says: “I would leave the table immediately after a meal and go online to chat. I became so hooked on chat rooms that I virtually stopped talking to my family.”
If you are spending valuable time in chat rooms, you may likewise be isolating yourself from those who matter most to you. The Bible provides this relevant warning: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) The strangers you meet in many chat rooms are unlikely to encourage you to live by the practical wisdom found in the Bible. It is more likely that they will encourage you to seek selfish interests and will tempt you to break free from Christian moral standards.
True, one of the lures of chat rooms may be that you find it easier to talk online than to communicate with family members. Your chat room associates may seem eager to hear your opinion on matters and might openly express their feelings. Your family members, on the other hand, might appear too busy to listen to your concerns and may find it difficult to express their feelings freely.
However, ask yourself: ‘Do my online associates know who I really am? Are they really interested in my long-term welfare?’ Members of your family are far more likely to care about your emotional and spiritual health. If your parents are trying to live by Bible standards, they are keenly interested in communicating with you. (Ephesians 6:4) If you respectfully express your thoughts and feelings to them, they may surprise you by responding more kindly than you expect.-Luke 11:11-13.
A father monitoring his son’s use of the Internet.
Wisely, show your parents your online destinations.
Avoiding the Dangers
You may have a compelling reason to access a chat room-for example, as part of a required school project.% If so, you can ensure that chat rooms do not become a snare for you by taking the following simple precautions.
First, avoid using an Internet-connected computer in the privacy of your own room. Doing so would be like wandering by yourself down a dark street in a strange city-you would be asking for trouble. Rather, keep the computer in a public area of the house where others can easily monitor its use.
Second, encourage better communication with your parents by showing them your online destinations and by explaining why you need to access a particular chat room. Also, set a time limit on how long you will be at the computer, and then stick to it.
Third, install computer programs that will help protect you from online sexual harassment by filtering the content of incoming messages. If you do receive sexual solicitations while online, let your parents or teacher know immediately. In some countries adults who know you are a minor yet solicit you through sexually suggestive text messages or other pornographic material are committing a criminal offense. They should be reported to the police.
In addition, never give out your name, your address, the name of the school you attend, or your phone number to someone you meet in a chat room. And never accept an invitation to meet face-to-face with a person you meet online!
Although written thousands of years ago, the words of wise King Solomon are relevant to the dangers posed by chat rooms: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.”-Proverbs 22:3.