Why I Won't Play Roulette When It Comes to My Kids and This Chat Site
It was a friend on Twitter who tipped me off to the site. He told me that parents needed to know about it.
"I probably don't even want to go there myself," I thought, as I did some preliminary research on the site. But then I reconsidered. After all, if it's out there, our kids already know about it, so we need to have a game-plan for helping them deal with it. With that in mind, I decided to check it out.
I have to be honest: Chatroulette.com is not my kind of thing at all. The site, which was created by a 17-year-old from Moscow, teams up voyeurism and the ability to write off other human beings at first glance (or without even a glance at all). It's not a winning combo in my books. Add to that the fact that some of the reviews of the site that I'd read had left me wondering what I was getting myself into (New York Times tech bits columnist Brad Stone wrote: "Parents, keep your children far, far away.") and you can see that this was more of a should-do rather than a want-to-do assignment.
Your microphone and webcam turn on the moment you hit the play button (unless you choose deny when the site first asks you for permission to turn your microphone and webcam on). If you want to chat with another user (via text, microphone, and/or webcam), you can do so if you both agree to maintain the connection. If you don't choose to maintain the connection, you just hit next and move on.
Here's a quick snapshot of what started happening once I started hitting that button.
- I spent about 10 minutes on the site at around 1:30 pm ET today. During that time, I made about 100 connections.
- At least half of the other people had their webcam turned off (like I did) so it wasn't possible to determine the other person's age or sex.
- Of the 50 or so people who did appear on camera, about 40 were male, five were female, and five were male-female couples. It was also common for young males to have friends with them.
- Of the 50 people who were visible on camera, one was a male who was masturbating and another was a couple who were having sex. About five of the other males had the webcam aimed at their crotches and/or who were partially undressed.
- The age ranges of the males ranged from early teens through around age 60. The females all appeared to be in their 20s.
- One user had a sign offering to "rate boobs for free." Someone else aimed the webcam at a pile of $50 and $100 bills which appeared to be real. (If sex fails, you can always try to seduce someone with money, I suppose.)
How long would it take a young child or preteen to find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation on this site? Based on my experience, no time at all.
I don't know about you, but I'll be having a talk with my kids tonight about how sites like this have the potential to dehumanize people and cheapen human relationships.
What I won't be doing is pretending that the site doesn't exist. Odds are they already know about it. What's hot with adults tends to be even hotter with preteens and teens, after all. They're the most wired generation ever. Our job as parents is to help them make sense of what they're seeing on the other side of the screen and to help them develop healthy relationships both online and in the real world.