"They're not friends because you met them online," he said. "We let people into our homes through telephone lines and cable lines that we wouldn't want anywhere near our homes or kids. Strangers are still strangers."
Though interacting with other Internet users is not always dangerous, parents and kids should take every precaution to keep their online and actual lives separate, especially when it comes to meeting online "friends."
"It's unlikely you're going to be enticed by somebody who's going to bring harm to you, but it's possible," said Buniak.
Information posted on blogs or social networking sites can be destructive in a different way. The Internet is a very public place, and once you put something out there it can be difficult, if not impossible, to take it back.
"You really need to be aware that what you're posting online can be read by anybody," warned Buniak. He cautioned that colleges, sports teams and employers often check popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and the online persona you put forward can have a very real impact on how others view you in the real world.
Depending on a child's age, the family computer can be placed in a central, easy-to-monitor location. Kids should also be taught and remember the four Rs when surfing: Recognize the techniques used by online predators; refuse requests for personal information; respond assertively to uncomfortable situations; and report any suspicious or dangerous contact to authorities.
It is ultimately up to parents to decide how they will approach Internet safety, however. Though there are a bevy of programs that can monitor Internet activity or block certain sites, Buniak says that while they can be useful, they could potentially damage the trust between a parent and child.
"The harmful effects could extend well beyond the computer," he said. "It's a personal decision, and that's how we leave it."
For information on Internet safety, check the DCJS' Web site at criminaljustice.state.ny.us.""