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Instant Messaging is the new wave of online communication. Not only is it easy to use, convenient and free, but it's popular - odds are someone you know uses some version of instant messaging.

In spite of it's features and appeal, it can however also be dangerous. Instant messaging is not only key in children being lured offline but a common method for hackers to invade and virus. As a result, it's an area which deserves our attention.

Instant messaging programs are small chat programs which allow you to do one on one chatting. You install the program on your computer and it operates independent of your browser.

All instant messaging programs contain some form of Contact List. You can add select people to your contact list then send small private messages back and forth without the program interfering with your other tasks.

While instant messaging programs are incredibly convenient and easy to use, they require some special attention in terms of safety.

The following tips will help you stay safe while using any instant messaging program.

1. Make sure that you do not include any real information in your profile. It may ask for information but that does not mean you MUST include real information. If you want to add details, make them up.

2. Make sure you have adjusted your privacy settings so that you are protected. (Our Security Section features detailed instructions on how to do this.)

3. Do not add people to your buddy list that you do not know. Sometimes strangers will make this request. You should always refuse.

4. Do not send or receive pictures. Instant messaging programs can disguise files and you could find yourself on the receiving end of a virus. Additionally you never know where that picture you send might end up.

Instant Messaging Programs Designed for Children

It comes as no surprise that with instant messaging becoming so popular there are now children's versions on the market. This section is a brief over-view of what's available. Please visit the sites for more information.

Yahooligans! Messenger

Yahooligans! is available at Yahoo! and is a specially designed instant messaging program with built in safety features.

Some of the safety features include your child only being able to receive messages from contacts in your list, a chat language filter, the ability to block email addresses, and parents having the ability to edit or adjust the security settings.