Guarding Against On-Line Predators

If you have teenagers at home, odds are they've visited the social networking Web site, MySpace.com.

The site's founders say it has more than 43 million members, each with their own page. And there are fears that this site — and others like it — have become places where sexual predators go to prey on children.

Police in Connecticut are investigating whether as many as seven teenage girls in one town have been sexually assaulted by men that they met through MySpace.

Parry Aftab, executive director of wiredsafety.org, visited The Early Show with some tips for parents on how to keep their children safe.

"Kids get into trouble by sharing too much personal information about themselves so the predators know how to groom them for an offline meeting," Hannah Storm. "They're posing in provocative pictures, they're talking about sexual issues.

"A lot of kids are acting out, thinking it's fun — real or imagined. They don't understand that there are people out there that can hurt them."

Aftab has three basic pointers for parents to help guard their children against predators.

Tell your teen you want to see their profile tomorrow.
Give your child a day to clean things up. Aftab compares this approach to how a parent might patrol a teenager's party. "If you have a teen party downstairs, you make a lot of noise before you go down," Aftab said. "You don't want to find someone locking lips. Make sure the lights are on."

Be understanding. Remember what it is like to be a teen.
"Just remember," Aftab said, "if your mother had a video camera on your shoulder when you were 15 years old, we'd all still be grounded."

She cautions parents to be tolerant of some language that might seem inappropriate. But "provocative pictures should not be allowed. Communications that are inappropriate or dangerous should not be allowed."

Check back on their profile often.
"Give a warning the first time, not after that," Aftab said. "It's not spying when it's something that's available to 700 million people to see. It's spying if you read their diary hidden in their room. If it's public for everybody else, it's not 'everybody but my parents can read it.' "

Aftab says the important thing is to teach your children how to use good judgment, so that they do not attract predators.

"We need to teach them to use the filter between their ears and think before they click and make sure parents are involved," she told Storm.

Aftab has been in touch with MySpace to help create safeguards for members. She also runs the web site parryaftab.blogspot.com, with instructions on how to remove a profile on MySpace.
  • Polly Leider

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