Chain letters are not a new phenomenon. Nowadays, however, they are spread via social networks and messenger services. For many children who use WhatsApp chain letters are a natural part of their lives. Some kids receive several chain letters a day, funny or creepy, usually riddled with spelling and typing errors.
Many messages are nice and make you smile or are intended to make it clear that you care about the reader. But there are also such chain letters that can put your child under pressure or even cause fear and panic. So-called “social barometers” are designed to show the sender of chain letters how popular he or she is:
“Send this letter to 12 wonderful girls (including me) and see how many times you get it back and see how many true friends you have. One to two: well, there are better ones. Two to three: Okay, you have some. Four to five: You have enough true friends.”
Chain letters often also contain threats and warnings about what can happen if the message is not forwarded. These are particularly frightening to children and young people. Some of them tell short horror stories and always end with sentences like “Send this message on, otherwise I’ll kill you!”. Threatening to harm friends or family is also one of the classic ways to create pressure and fear.
“If you love your mom send this to 20 people. One girl ignored this and her mom died in 365 days. Sorry I can’t ignore this because I love my mom. Shame on you if you don’t”.
These creepy messages are now also available as audio chain letters. That is, a distorted computer voice threatens the recipient with murder or bodily harm unless the audio file is forwarded to a certain number of contacts. These types of chain letters can be particularly scary for children.
Therefore, it is important to talk to your child about chain letters. Explain that not forwarding will not have any consequences and this kind of messages are just a very bad joke. You can also send a message to the sender together and educate about the background of chain letters. If such a message was sent from an unknown number, the number should be blocked directly. Then messages from this person will not be delivered.
If you would like to read more about the topic, you can get more information at saferinternet.at, for example.