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Different fonts, different colors, the words whiz by, everyone's screen name sounding vaguely pornographic. I'm on America Online, in a chat room for young adults. There are hundreds of such chat rooms on AOL, and it has taken a lot of Net navigating simply to find one that has room enough to let me in. For all the crowds and clamoring, there's not much being said in this chat room, or rather, not much that's being paid attention to.

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For all the crowds and clamoring, there's not much being said in this chat room, or rather, not much that's being paid attention to.

A year-old girl is talking about her baby due in two months. A grumpy year-old guy reluctantly wishes her well. Another girl, 17, asks, "Are your parents cool with it? I've been on line, off and on, for months trying to determine if there is such a thing as a rioms and, if so, what goes into the making of this most modern of personality constructs. Teen-agers especially are fitting specimens for this experiment because they are the first generation saturated in this new medium.

Chat room dangers that kids and teens are exposed to

In any given week, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, nearly 70 percent of all to year-olds go on line. The Internet has shaped them -- just as television shaped their parents, and radio their grandparents. Once a generation saw itself grow up on TV; now a generation is watching itself grow up on line. It would follow then that the 31 million teen-agers of Gen Y or Generation Why or Echo Boomers or Millennials, as this group is variously called, would have completely new ways of perceiving one another and themselves.

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I went undercover as a cyberteen to find out. Teen-age years -- at least in my memory -- are reserved largely for trying out different personas. As the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson contended, adolescence is a period "during which the individual through free role experimentation may find a niche in some section of his society, a niche which is firmly defined and yet seems to be uniquely made for him. Herein lies the thrill of the on-line self: its malleability, its plasticity, youjg fact that it can be made up entirely of your own imagination.

You can take your old self, or don a fresh one, and hang out in a group of jocks for a postgame chat, argue the banality of Britney Spears with an international posse of pop connoisseurs, post a note to a cool-sounding guy from Detroit -- all without ever having to leave your bedroom. Maybe this is the Internet's greatest asset to teendom: access, and the confidence to slip in and out of personalities, the ability to try on identities, the adolescent equivalent of playing dress-up in the attic, standing before the fpr in afults and lipstick long before you own your own.

Internet safety for kids: online chat rooms versus online message boards

March I'm on line as Red, a cumbersome screen name that I believe, nonetheless, sounds teen-age blunt and allows me gender flexibility. I've been slow to get started.

In fact, I really haven't said much beyond commiserating with the pregnant girl, telling her that when my sister was pregnant she found cocoa butter helpful, that it helped her skin feel "not as char. For all the identity adilts that occurs on line, teen-agers tend to talk in a uniform way that leaves me scrambling. Not only is it teen talk -- it's 90's teen talk. I have to think to remember "girl" not "woman. Want 2 cyber?

Internet safety for kids: online chat rooms versus online message boards

The crew is ignored, washing over the room like a tide, before caht back out to sea. I chat with a Croatian teen-ager about obscure Scandinavian death-metal bands. He says he is He writes that he has never heard of them. I struggle to remember their big hit but realize I'm dating myself in doing so.

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I suddenly feel out of place, as if I'm wearing a thick turtleneck at a summer adulgs. Someone new has just entered the room, looking for love. I spend a lot of time cruising E-zine sites for teen-agers and connecting to the ever-multiplying of hyperlinks a lot of the Web s offer. The randomness makes me dizzy.

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March I'm on line as Red, a cumbersome screen name that I believe, nonetheless, sounds teen-age blunt and allows me gender flexibility. I've been slow to get started.

In fact, I really haven't said much beyond commiserating with the pregnant girl, telling her that when my sister was pregnant she found cocoa butter helpful, that it helped her skin feel "not as stretchy. For all the identity shifting that occurs on line, teen-agers tend to talk in a uniform way that leaves me scrambling.

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Not only is it teen talk -- it's 90's teen talk. I have to think to remember "girl" not "woman.

Want 2 cyber? The crew is ignored, washing over the room like a tide, before heading back out to sea.

I chat with a Croatian teen-ager about obscure Scandinavian death-metal bands. He says he is He writes that he has never heard of them. I struggle to remember their big hit but realize I'm dating myself in doing so. I suddenly feel out of place, as if I'm wearing a thick turtleneck at a summer rave. Someone new has just entered the room, looking for love. I spend a lot of time cruising E-zine sites for teen-agers and connecting to the ever-multiplying of hyperlinks a lot of the Web s offer.

The randomness makes me dizzy. But in fact, I manage my first chat rooms for young adults with a guy I meet a series of links away from a surfing site.

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He calls himself Brian--the--Hawaiian. He has something like a million screen names on a million different sites. He tells me he is 16, from Honolulu, but wants to get out of there soon to come to the continental U.

We chat a few times, about waves and about whether the volcanoes in Hawaii are cool. I have to think to remember not "very cool. Then one night, out of nowhere, he asks me if I want to cyber.

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He actually sounds serious! I say no, but agree to send him a kiss, which I do. I write something like "peck. Even though this is an experiment, and even though he says he's "crazy 4 older women" this time I've said I'm 18it still feels weird. He tells me xhat favorite movie star is Austin Powers, though I don't have the heart to mention to him that Austin Fo isn't real.

He also says that maybe he wants to be an actor someday, or a professional surfer. I tell him "2 go 4 it. I've told him I can see the bridge from my window. This feels a little too real.