FBI: Young children being exposed to porn

Published On: Jul 23 2012 02:56:15 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 24 2012 06:10:53 AM CDT
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:

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