Keeping kids safe online

Keeping kids safe online (Alan Oliver, Getty Images)

Lohmann thinks access to the Internet can be broadened as a child gets older and learns to act responsibly. But Woda says parents can and should take away devices if kids misuse them. What's key, the experts say, is helping children learn to make the right choices online.

Bolstering their self-esteem can help, O'Connor says, because it will give your child the confidence to resist peer pressure — whether it's not following a friend's lead in sending or receiving salacious content, or caving into the inappropriate demands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. They also can see through the assumption that "because everybody is sexting, it's OK."

"Everybody is not doing this," O'Connor says.

Set a good example. Sexting and the broad issue of proper online behavior give parents something else to ponder: how their behavior serves as a model for their children.

"Kids are watching their parents," Woda says. "Junior watches mom walk out the door to go on a date with a complete stranger she met online … and she tells her son, 'Don't make friends with strangers or meet them offline.'

"We seriously have to ask ourselves why these kids are making these dumb decisions. We give them cameras when their hormones are running wild, and we're not monitoring what they're doing because we're updating our profile."

Remain alert to what your child is doing in cyberspace. Check up on your kids online. Google their names and those of their friends, Lohmann says, or pretend to be a stranger using the Internet to find where your child lives — are you able to get that information?

Some have criticized her stance, insisting teens need privacy.

"To some extent, I agree," Lohmann says. "But your child is still a minor and still needs guidance. As parents, you are the No. 1 teacher."

Woda recommends that parents examine telephone bills and question any numbers they don't recognize; be suspicious if your kids shut down computers or cellphones when you're nearby; insist that your children use cellphones and computers in public areas of the house; and set clear rules for using various devices and online behavior.

And always be vigilant.

"Know who your child is talking to and who is trying to talk to them," he says.