How To Stay Safe When Chatting With Strangers Online

Updated November 8, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The desire to communicate with others and form healthy relationships is something that many humans strive for. However, the pressure to develop friendships or intimate relationships can seem daunting and we may turn toward social media and online chat rooms to provide that opportunity. Relying on technology and social media to meet new people can also lead to situations that could be unsafe because there is may be no way to be sure who we’re really talking to.

Text chat refers to any kind of communication over the internet that offers a real-time transmission of text messages from a sender to a receiver. Chat rooms and online messaging groups have become increasingly popular ways for people to connect online. While text chat can be a great way to meet new people with similar interests and expand your network, it can be important to be safe when interacting with unknown profiles. Online predators may use the internet to lure people, but with some risk-management tips, we can approach text chats more carefully for safe and meaningful interactions.

Why Do People Text Chat With Strangers?

Therapy Can Help With Social Skills

There are several reasons why a person might want to chat with a stranger online. In a digital age, it can be easy to get caught up in the world of electronic communication, especially if a person struggles with self-esteem or experiences anxiety. 

For many of us, it can also be easier to talk about personal feelings with strangers because we can end the conversation any time. We also may fear our friends and family judging us so we may seek interactions with people we don’t know or may never talk to again. Communicating with others online creates a sense of having a “relationship” or “friendship” without having to commit to constant dialogue.

Are There Risks Associated With Text Chat?

If we’re not sure about who we’re really talking to online, we could end up giving our information to someone who could use it against us. The following are reasons to be cautious when engaging with strangers online: 

  • Identity theft
  • Catfishing
  • Online Bullying
  • Scams
  • Hackers

Individuals who are skilled at using the internet to lure users may also change their email or social media accounts frequently. While it’s not uncommon for some people to change these accounts from time to time, online predators may do so more frequently to keep them from being identified after they commit a crime.

Things To Consider Before Using Text Chat With Strangers

No matter how sincere the person on the other end of the text chat may seem, there may not be a way to know if they are being completely honest. 

For instance, if we communicate with a stranger, it may be a good idea to refrain from giving out our last names, our locations, and our phone numbers. 

Chat rooms are common places to meet “friends” online, and inexperienced chat room visitors may be drawn in by the name of the room. For example, some rooms may be named to attract book-club enthusiasts while others may be named for sports fanatics. A skilled manipulator may purposefully join a room not based on the topic of interest but because of the demographic of people that typically frequent it.

What Draws Us To Chat Rooms?

Before engaging in a text chat with a stranger, let’s think about why we consider this type of communication in the first place. Being honest with ourselves about our reasons for choosing text chat is a great place to start.

Are we insecure about in-person social settings? Is our social anxiety preventing us from interacting with our peers outside of an online platform? Do we thrive in conversation when we have a few minutes to think about our answers? Is our strength written communication over verbal communication? Many people may feel empowered using online chat rooms and wish to continue this way of making friends while others may find that they would like to explore in-person connections to improve their self-esteem.

A therapist can help to explore the reasons for engaging in text chat such as having a fear of social settings. In a 2015 study, researchers found that social skills training (SST) in therapy “significantly reduced” distress in relation to social anxiety disorder (SAD). According to the study, those of us who experience social distress may feel self-conscious or have a fear of negative evaluation.

Every situation is different so it can be hugely beneficial to explore our feelings of social settings with a licensed therapist. Online therapy is a great option for people who struggle with social settings and may feel comfortable at home in their own environment rather than commuting to a therapist’s office. On the other hand, online therapy is often more affordable than in-person therapy because it removes the cost of traveling to see your therapist. Furthermore, a study in Hong Kong found that internet-based cognitive therapy was “highly promising” in treating SAD.

When seeking companionship offline, a safe alternative may be attending local meetups or community events. This allows us to meet people in person in a public place with others around us. After all, we might be able learn a lot about a person by watching the way they interact with others.

For many of us, experiencing social anxiety, low self-esteem, or avoidance behavior might make us more inclined to meet people online. Because of this, we may want to get to the root of our anxiety. Or, perhaps we consider ourselves introverted and are more comfortable interacting via technology. Maybe we’re isolated, by choice or due to life circumstances, and are experiencing bouts of loneliness.

In a 2006 study, researchers found that time spent in chat rooms was “correlated with loneliness.” If loneliness seems to be the reason that we frequent chat rooms, it can be helpful to talk through our feelings with a mental health professional.

2014 review determined that loneliness can lead to various psychiatric disorders such as depression, alcohol use disorder, sleep problems, personality disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. It can also lead to various physical disorders like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, obesity, physiological aging, cancer, poor hearing, and poor health. The study suggests that left unchecked, loneliness can have serious ramifications on both mental and physical health.

Whether we’re experiencing loneliness, social anxiety disorder, low self-esteem, or have a fear of rejection, and online communication is still our preference, we can arm ourselves with some knowledge about the risks involved in text chat and ways to engage in chat rooms safely. But it’s important to chat safely when a stranger is on the other end.

There are also safer options for chatting online including online counseling and support groups that have been vetted by legitimate organizations. These services allow us to communicate with others who are supportive and nonjudgmental within the context of a safer environment.

The internet can offer a world of education and resources, but try to always be careful when online. We may also want to seek safer alternatives for meeting new people or talk to a counselor who can help with self-esteem, loneliness, or social anxiety.

Therapy Can Help With Social Skills

Online counseling is becoming more and more popular as many people connect with mental health professionals from the comfort of their own homes. As an online counseling platform, BetterHelp is dedicated to making professional counseling affordable and convenient to anyone who is struggling with life’s challenges. A review of the literature regarding online counseling suggests that it’s just as effective as traditional, in-person counseling. If you’re curious about online counseling, you’ll find a couple of reviews of our counselors below.

Counselor Reviews

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Takeaway

Text chat is a popular way for communicating online but it may be beneficial to reflect on why we prefer online human interaction over in-person relationships.

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