HOUSTON -

Innocent looking apps, like picture-making Instagram or message-sharing KIK, can turn into a predator’s best friend before a parent has even learned how to log in.

As social media becomes more complex, it is hard for some to keep up.

Cammie Moise found out firsthand when she noticed her fourth-grade daughter acting strange. When she pressed the girl, her daughter told her about seeing pornographic pictures on the Internet at a friend's house.

"She just broke down and cried. Now I have to have the conversation not just about sex, but porn, and what is right and what is not with a fourth-grader, which is not fun," said Moise, the mother of two pre-teens.

FBI Special Agent Amanda Hinton said it is not fun, but it is a reality she sees daily during her work with the Cyber Crimes Task Force.

"That little girl has that stuck in her head. It is happening to 8- and 9-year-olds because they're getting phones earlier. They're getting themselves in trouble earlier," said Hinton.

Many of those disturbing images and texts that find children are not by accident.

"If a kid is out there using a website or a software program or even an online gaming system, so are the predators. They are going to be anywhere the kids are going to be. Most of the time they know more about technology than the kids, so when they can tell the kids are moving on to the next technology, the predators are going to be there waiting for them," Hinton said.

Psychotherapist Samantha Rushing said predators use the picture and suggestive texts to seek out and test victims.

"If they say, 'Yes, I do accept this and will engage in this discussion with you,' the person on the receiving end is getting a big green light," said Rushing, a therapist with Southwest Psychotherapy Associates.

This is where family rules can backfire. A child's guilt over breaking the rules can pull them deeper into danger with a predator or anyone trying to get them to do dangerous activities.

"I've interviewed kids that were scared to come forward. They have said, 'I didn't know how my mom was going to take it,' or maybe at that point, 'I didn't want to disappoint my parents because I didn't want them to know I sent a picture I shouldn't have sent,'" Hinton said.

The problem is children don't always understand the problem. They don't realize a harmless picture posted on an innocent application, like Instagram, can be collected by predators, passed to people they don't know, and, thanks to new technology like geotagging, it can tell strangers exactly where they were when the picture was taken.

Before parents throw down the hammer on the Internet or apps in general, both Hinton and Rushing said moms and dads should avoided the "automatic no" because it just doesn't work when it comes to pre-teens and teens.

"If you just say no, then the teen thinks you don't know what you are talking about because everybody else's parents let them do it, so what is wrong with you? They don't really have any good reason to go off to do something that could potentially be dangerous," Rushing said.

Parents who have used the applications or programs, Rushing said, will know how it works, and teens respect that.

"The more concrete examples you can provide a teenager, with real-life examples, the more that is going to resonate with them," Rushing said.

It is a good to play dumb, even if you know how something works. Ask your child to show you how to operate within the programs settings. Ask how they are keeping things private or controlling who sees what they are posting. Rushing said children love to demonstrate their knowledge to parents, and this may make them more receptive to your observations.

"It can become more of a collaborative conversation without the parent saying "no" and the child feeling shut down, which makes them more apt to go do it," Rushing said.

While it may be uncomfortable to start the conversation, Moise said it is better sooner than later.

Her experience with her daughter lead her to create the Cyber Safety Family website, where parents and others can share what they find and how they are dealing with the children surfing the Internet.

"I say as soon as they start using anything that connects to the Internet, it's time to talk. We forget that we are parents in the digital age and that means if we're not parenting digitally, we're not parenting," Moise said.

Sometimes just letting kids know you are making the effort to be digitally "hip" may be the best message to send.

FBI Special Agent Amanda Hinton's things to know about cyber safety:

  • It's real. There is a picture-sharing app that is spreading like wildfire through third- and fourth-grade classrooms.
  • The FBI is seeing more eighth- and ninth-graders seeing porn on the Internet.
  • Parents need to realize they can ask their provider to disable phones, to block the Internet or block the phone from sending pictures.
  • Monitoring programs can report every keystroke made, every website visited and document both sides of text conversations.
  • Kids think they are being safe. Hinton talked to a 15-year-old girl who said she only when into one chat room that was for 15- to 17-year-old girls, but when Hinton asked her how they proved she was a 15-year-old girl, she had to admit they took her word for it.
  • Predators don't waste their time on kids who will talk to people about what is going on. They will use the guilt or shame over breaking the rules or sending a picture to force the child into doing more.
  • Have show-and-tell with your kids. Compare apps and make it fun so they want to share the things they find, good and bad, with you.
  • Pictures can carry geotagged information that lets a person see where the picture was taken. This function can and should be turned off if children are sharing their pictures with others.
  • Predators take and share pictures of children they find suggestive, which can be as simple as a summertime bathing suit picture. They find them on the Internet, like baseball cards, even if they have no plans to find or meet the child.
  • The No. 1 safety rule is to make sure your children know their safety comes first. No rule they break should keep them silent if someone is hurting or scaring them.

Psychotherapist Samantha Rushing's rules for talking tech with pre-teens/teens:

  • No to the "automatic no" -- don't just say "no" or "don't." Teens need proof that something is what you say it is. Come armed with your facts and evidence.
  • Parents need to try the application so they appear to know what they are talking about when starting a conversation with kids about tech. It is convenient and fun, so they need you to explain why it is bad.
  • Have them show you. If you don't understand how it works, ask your kid to teach you to use it. If they can answer your questions, then they can have permission to use it.
  • Kids love to show off their knowledge. Use this to start a conversation. Let them show off and, in the end, it may set you up to be there when they learn about the "dark side" of the Internet. Have them show you how to set the app to private and what is so "cool" about it.
  • Don't just tell them, show them. Kids have no concept of how fast things can spread. Have them send a crazy picture to a sibling who promises not to pass it on. Then have that sibling pass it on to other relatives, to friends, to demonstrate how fast they can lose control over something once they send it into cyberspace.
  • Use knowledge, not fear. Don't scare them into using technology that the next generation is going to be using to survive in the world and workforce. It is more about showing them how to handle things when they get in too deep or expose too much.
  • Let them know that other people use what you do against you to control you. Make sure children know that no broken rule matters more than their feelings of safety. If they are scared or ashamed or feel guilty, that should never keep them from coming to someone for help.
  • Even if you have to have a punishment for a broken rule, be sure to offer positive reinforcement for being brave enough to come forward and telling the truth.