How well do you know who your teenager is talking to online? Could they be trying to meet someone they've never met in person?
Theresa Payton, our cyber security expert, says your teen very well could be.
"They don't see people online as strangers," she says.
Not exactly what parents want to hear, given how often you drilled them on 'stranger danger' when they were younger.
"You did teach your children, don't talk to strangers," says Payton. "And they get it in the physical world, but for some reason when they get online and they start talking to someone, they feel like they know them. They extend a trust to them that they wouldn't if they had just met them at the mall."
Consider the murder of Ohio teen Ariele Patterson. America Now discovered in a search warrant that police believe Patterson first met her accused killers, Eddie Doh and Nicholas Wright, online before traveling to Charlotte, N.C. where she was killed.
We also learned from Charlotte Mecklenburg Police's vice unit that online prostitution is a growing trend and part of the reason they don't see as many prostitutes walking the streets. The set-up is now happening online, more often than not.
And it's not just adults trolling the internet for adult companionship. Your teen could be going it, too.
"It's not snooping," Payton says. "Tell [your kids] up front, 'I'm going to be monitoring your traffic.'"
You also need to have the right conversations with your teen when it comes to their online behavior, and according to Payton, it starts with four things every parent needs to know.
First, tell your teen you must meet any online friends first. Then make it a habit to visit the same online sites they do.
Also, be on the lookout for any withdrawal symptoms or any unexplained gifts.
"If they suddenly have unexplained items or clothing that are from a friend, track down which friend that's from," she advised. "It may be from somebody on the internet that's grooming them to try and meet them in person."
Payton also suggested you make the bedroom off-limits for using devices. Laptops, iPads and cell phones should be restricted to common areas like the kitchen or living room only.
"Bedrooms should be off-limits," she cautioned. "It's way too easy for photographs and videos [to be taken] in the bedroom that are inappropriate for all areas."
The bottom line: It is not about snooping. It is about keeping a close eye on your children when it comes to their online activities. Experts say you need to be as concerned about who your child is friending online as you are about their friends in the physical world.
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