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Advice from FBI Cyber Expert Arnold Bell on Protecting Our Children


Graphic of Arnold Bell and the Crimes Against Children logoSobering Stats: Six out of 10 kids online have gotten an e-mail or instant message from a perfect stranger ... and more than half have written back. One in 33 kids has been aggressively solicited to meet their "cyber friend" in person. One in four kids, ages 10-17, has been exposed to unwanted sexual material online.

These are the scary realities facing our 48 million young Internet users. So what do parents need to know when it comes to Internet safety? How can you keep your kids out of harm's way in cyberspace?

We spoke to someone with the answers: FBI Special Agent Arnold Bell. Agent Bell manages our "Innocent Images" program; its mission is to protect children from cyber predators through undercover operations and other proactive initiatives.

His advice, in a nutshell:

"Communicate. It can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but talk to your kids about these issues. They need to understand the dangers, but they also need to trust you enough to tell you what's going on without fear of losing their computer privileges."

"Establish some ground rules. I have two teenage daughters who are on the Internet all the time. They even have their own web sites. What I tell them is this: don't give out any personal information over the Internet. Don't post pictures. Don't talk about family matters. Don't talk about your school. Even the smallest bits of information can be exploited by cyber predators."

"Keep tabs. Don't just put your kid in front of a computer and walk away. Sit with them. Put your family computer in an open area, never in a child's private room. If you can, password protect access to the web so that your kids have to come to you to go online. And know what they're up to on the Internet. I tell my girls, 'This is my computer and you have no expectation of privacy. I will be looking at your chat logs.' And I do."

"Report suspicious/inappropriate things you find online whenever you or your children come across them. A great way to do that is through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline. FBI Special Agents and an investigative analyst, as well as other federal personnel are stationed at the center full-time. You can fill out a form right on the web site, and your information will be passed on to the appropriate law enforcement agency."

"If the unthinkable happens and your child meets or is abducted by a pedophile, contact your local police department immediately. They'll reach out and get us involved. In the meantime, don't touch your computer or turn it off. It may contain valuable evidence that could lead us to the predator."

Final words: "Be assured that the FBI is committed to protecting your children from sexual predators on the Internet."

For further reading: A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety | Innocent Images National Initiative

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