Social Media Notebook: Chat Roulette Plays Games with Our Young Patients' Lives

MDNG Pediatrics, March 2010, Volume 12, Issue 1

Just as with the spin of a roulette wheel in a casino, you never know who you will "land on" and chat with. These people are complete strangers, and anything goes!

From the time they are knee-high, we teach our kids not talk to strangers, whether in person, on the phone, or online.

So, why are they ignoring this advice and using a new program called “Chat Roulette"? Perhaps, it’s because not only are adults they know doing it, but because the program was developed by a teen.

That’s right; there’s a new online program gathering huge momentum that is truly called “Chat Roulette.” Just as with the spin of a roulette wheel in a casino, you never know who you will “land on” and chat with. These people are complete strangers, and anything goes!

To get a sense of the types of characters that you’re apt to find if you do brave Chat Roulette, it may help you to think of the site as “Russian Chat Roulette.” In truth, you’re more apt to find some truly creepy and deviant stuff rather than just silly antics. A huge amount of it is slanted toward the crude and sexual and is most definitely not what we’d want our kids, even teens, to be exposed to.

The only way for a parent to protect their child from the program is to know about it and block it on the home computer via a blocking program. Chat Roulette is very rudimentary. You log on and chat; there are no controls or ways to lock out types of content or types of users. There are also no age restrictions.

With its growing popularity and coverage all over the news, there is a good chance that the teens and young adults whom you see in your practice know about Chat Roulette already, with parents lagging way behind, unless they are up on the latest high-tech news. So, it’s important that we clue them in so we can help them to keep their kids safe.

For most issues having to do with kids’ use of the Internet, I encourage parents to talk with their kids and help them use sites responsibly so we can foster digital citizenship. Chat Roulette, however, is trouble. It serves no great purpose for our kids, tweens, and teens and will expose them to age-appropriate content that amounts to porn of varying degrees of explicitness. This is one of the rare times you’ll see me outright suggesting that a sight should be blocked or filtered from a family home computer where there are children under age 18.

Luckily, there are many filtering programs parents can download for free. Three of the best are:

Norton Online Family

K9 Webprotection

McGruff Safeguard

I always suggest that parents start with free software and then, if that doesn’t meet their needs, explore the programs that cost money to download, such as Safe Eyes or Spector Pro.

You can alert your families to the dangers of chat roulette via your social media channels as well as your usual 1.0 communication channels, but I’d also encourage you to add it to your review of systems for a while. This is one of the best ways to catch new users and educate people to the dangers.