Keeping the lines of communication open with children who are using social networking sites is the best way to keep them safe from possible contact with sexual predators according to a cyber safety expert.

Many children use social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace and while the sites facilitiate communication between friends, children can also be contacted by strangers when they are using the sites and often don't report the incidents to their parents.

Rob Nickel, author of Staying Safe in a Wired World, says sometimes kids are afraid to tell their parents, thinking, "'Maybe they'll take the computer away from me or worry about me online and I don't want that to happen'." 

"That's one of the things we have to talk about with our kids," Nickel told Canada AM. "If something makes you feel uncomfortable online, you've got to feel open to come to me tell me about it and we'll look into it. If it's that dangerous, we have to get the police involved."

Nickel worked as an undercover police officer working to catch sexual predators for many years, and has used to his expertise to teach children, parents, and educators about online safety.

"The more information that you give out is more ammunition for possible predators or someone that might want to do some harm," Nickel told CTV's Canada AM.

"You really have to watch the information that you put out there. That's probably the number one rule when it comes to Facebook and MSN profiles -- the information you're giving is out there for the whole world to see."

Nickel said that the amount of personal information available online should be decided upon an individual basis and that a comfort level should be agreed upon between parents and children. Nickel says this is important as social networking tools continue to gain in popularity.

"We're never going to get rid of MySpace or MSN profiles," said Nickel.

"That's why I'm saying work with it, because you're not going to get rid of it. If you're more interactive with your children and look at their pages and see what's on there and go through it with them, you're making sure everything's okay for them.

"That's the thing. To say just don't do it, you shouldn't have it at all it's not going to solve the problem because it's always going to be there."

A study released earlier this month also did not discourage children from communicating with online social networking tools.

The study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine said the best approach is to teach children about what behaviours to avoid and how to detect warning signs.

However, the same study suggested that the presence of personal information online did not necessarily make children safer from predators and related threats.

With files from the Associated Press