MSN Messenger is the most popular stand-alone messaging program, although some Web sites, including Facebook, now offer IM technology as a feature so users can talk in real time.
Most young people (74%) use instant messaging on a regular basis. For kids, it is an incredible, free tool that lets them chat with friends, coordinate school projects and plan activities. It is also an integral part of their daily social lives: knowing all the jokes shared during the previous night’s IM discussion helps kids build and maintain their social relationships with peers at school. Beyond that, as young people use the “my contacts” feature to create lists and groups of friends to talk with they are developing skills for managing a social network or community of peers.
When younger youth start using instant messaging – usually as pre-teens – their social status is based on the number of friends they have in their contact list. Because of this, kids in this age group may be pressured to accept requests to be added as a contact – even from people they don’t know. As they gain proficiency in using IM, young people develop subtle techniques for gaining and maintaining status in their social group. For example, if they want to impress someone, they may wait for that person to contact them, instead of the reverse – and they may not rush to respond once contacted. Some kids set up two instant messaging accounts: one that is public and another that they share only with their closest friends.
Sometimes kids use other people’s accounts to disguise their identity in conversations with others – with or without permission. They don’t necessarily intend this maliciously: they may view it as a joke or as a role playing experiment (which can be a normal developmental activity for adolescents). But harassment and hurt feelings can easily result, so it’s a good idea to talk early on with your kids about these sorts of behaviours. Build empathy by asking them to consider: even if the person whose identity you have “borrowed” has given you permission, is this fair to the person you’re talking to? How would you feel if this happened to you?
Here are some tips to help you effectively manage instant messaging in the home:
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