02/23/2012 10:35 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2012

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

There is a disturbing new trend involving youth that is the new "it" thing on YouTube. Pre-teen and teenage kids, mostly girls, are uploading videos of themselves asking the question, "Do you think I'm pretty?" This may seem harmless to those children who are posting these videos, but what they don't realize is that these videos open the door to a plethora of Internet dangers.

Most youth today live in the land of social media. They use their Smartphone to text, BBM, tweet, connect with friends on Facebook, post pictures on virtual corkboards via Pinterest and let everyone know where they are on Foursquare. Privacy is no longer an issue because they share their entire lives with complete strangers unaware of how dangerous those strangers could become.

The Internet, and now social media, has given sexual predators access to youth, not only around the country, but also abroad. The Crime Against Children Research Center reports that 1 in 5 kids has received unwanted sexual solicitations via the web, and 25 percent of kids who use the Internet say they have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online. 77 percent of those youth targeted were 14 or older. 22 percent were 10-13 years of age.

As a parent/guardian, you simply can't keep your children from connecting with others via social media, but, there are some warning signs of which you must be aware, that may indicate whether or not your child has been contacted by a sexual predator, including:

  • Increased activity on their phones or the internet
  • pornography on your child's computer
  • receiving phone calls from adults you don't know
  • letters, gifts and packages in the mail from unknown sources addressed to your child

According to the FBI, there are some things you can do to safeguard your children from being victimized by sexual predators online. They include:

  1. Talk to your child. This may sound simple, but have simple conversations with your children works wonders. Take advantage of "teachable moments" when you can share with your kids what they should, and should not, do in situations. Don't allow the fact that they may not be listening deter you, just continue to communicate with them so they will feel comfortable coming to you when they need to talk.
  2. Keep the computer in an open environment. Placing the computer in the family room will diminish your child's opportunity for private chatting. Doing so will always allow you to see what they are doing on the computer.
  3. Review your child's cell phone records. Doing this will help you to monitor calls sent and received. It also gives you an idea about what they are discussing via text messages and with whom.

If you find that a sexual predator has contacted your child, contact your local authorities. The sooner you can report the incident, the sooner you can disconnect that person's contact with your child.

You can learn more at Black and Missing Foundation, Inc