Thursday’s online sex sting in Pender County begs the question; how do you keep your kids safe on the computer? A predator can be anywhere, not just a single website, chat room or social networking site. There are warning signs and ways to prevent your child from being a victim. Katie Lee, a 17-year-old, said, “I try to protect myself, but there are going to be creeps out there that are going to be like ‘ooh, let me get your number’.” Katie is a high school senior and said she spends about two to three hours online each day. She said she is careful about the dangers lurking online. “My MySpace is private. I don't use AIM or Hotmail. I got Hotmail, but that’s only because I go to CraigsList, because I'm trying to get a car.” A year long investigation in Pender County ended in 8 men, one local and others from across the state, charged with sex crimes against minors. A detective posed as a 14-year-old girl. Men solicited sex and sent inappropriate photos. Kristin Holt, a clinical family therapist, said, “Those online predators are looking for kids with vulnerabilities and kids who don't have parents looking out for them and don't have parents monitoring them.” Holt said she has seen many parents concerned about how much time kids are spending online. She said there are signs that there might be a problem. “If they seem depressed, or less talkative, their not wanting to do things in their neighborhood or with friends,” she said. Holt's advice if parents think there's a problem is to simply talk about it. “A lot of people just want to be spoken to in a direct manner. They don't want you to hedge around it, because if you hedge, they're going to hedge,” Holt added. There are ways to see what your child is looking at. Computer Cop software is available free at local sheriff offices and police departments. It will tell you what websites and chat rooms have been visited by that computer. The bottom line is, know where your child is going in cyberspace and if you suspect a problem, ask questions and demand answers.
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