Key To Protecting Kids Online? Talk!

Protecting children from potential sexual predators online begins by word of mouth: your mouth, that is, talking to your kids, over and over, about what they're up to in cyberspace.

"Talk to them, talk to them, talk to them," stressed Parry Aftab, executive director of, on The Early Show Wednesday.

Aftab was speaking after an official of the Department of Homeland Security was arrested on charges of soliciting someone online he thought was a 14-year-old girl who turned out to be an undercover cop, and testimony Tuesday on Capitol Hill from a child porn victim who later opened his own porn Web site.

Aftab told co-anchor Julie Chen: "Sadly, (those stories don't) surprise me. We're having a huge growth of anybody who's ever thought about molesting children getting online and talking to anyone they think is a young teen. … Anybody who's ever thought about it can do it quite easily, they think, anonymously."

Which kids are most susceptible?

"Well, (age) 11½ to 15 is generally the range," said Aftab, who also testified at the congressional hearing Tuesday. "Thirty-percent boys, 70 percent girls.

"They fall into two categories: those who are the loners looking for love who are being conned and groomed by people they meet online, who look like their soul mates, and our kids fall for it hook, line and sinker. The other type is the kids who are high risk, the ones who drive too fast, drink too much, do things because of the thrills involved. For them, this is just another thrill."

Click here to hear Larry Magid's podcast interview
of Ernie Allen of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children,
who testified Tuesday before Congress and has advice for parents.

What can you do to shield your kids?

"You have to talk to them. You have to stay involved in what they're doing," Aftab said. "In (the case of the former child porn victim and Web site operator who testified), he had a Web cam in his bedroom and he was able to do an awful lot of things.

"What we need to do is recognize that we've got our kids wired with handheld cell phones and Xbox Live 360s and a lot of other ways they can communicate with people they meet online.

"Talk to them, talk to them, talk to them. Ask them what they're doing. Check on what they're doing from time to time. The more involved you are with their lives, the less involved they're going to be with a predator."

There's also software available that can help parents, Aftab said: "It's called spectorsoft. It's very powerful; it's used by law enforcement and others. It will log everything going in and out of your computer, telling you where they've gone, what they've done, in full detail, and even send you an e-mail at work if that's what you're looking for."

And what if you suspect someone is stalking your child online?

"The first thing you need to do is not warn your child," Aftab stressed. "If they are being groomed, they will warn the bad guys.

"Pick up the phone and call your local police. Most local police officers have training now in cybercrime somewhere within the department.

"If they don't know what they're talking about, pick up the phone and call the FBI's Innocent Images. They have them locally and they are trained in travelers, the bad guys who are trying to lure our children.

"You could also reach out to the 's cyber-tip line. And talk to them.

"But the first stop should always be your own local cops."