14 year old Rachel Cooper of Clovis keeps connected with friends on Facebook from a computer located in a family room, where her mom and dad can keep a watchful eye. Even when they're not around, they still keep up with Rachel's online activity. "My husband and I both have a Facebook page. And we're friends so we know who they're talking to, and what they're talking about," said Rachel's mom, Donna Cooper.
But all too often, parents don't know who's on the other side of the computer screen. Neither do the teens. "You don't know anything about who these people are, other than what they type. Just because they say they're the coolest person in the world, it doesn't mean anything because frequently they're not," said Clovis Police Department Detective Dustin Dodd.
Dodd is a computer crime detective and forensic analyst with the Clovis Police Department. In the last three years, he's investigated hundreds of crimes involving child predators. "As soon as a child can understand how to use a computer, they can put themselves in harm's way and become vulnerable," said Dodd.
Dodd has seen kids as young as 12 turn into victims. He said parental involvement is key in keeping predators away from your child. Dodd suggests keeping computers in open spaces, like the Coopers have done. He also advises parents to create their own accounts on social networking sites to keep up with their kids' online profiles. "Ask questions and question your kids' answers. Start digging and see if they're trying to hide anything from you," said Dodd.
Rachel's parents have passwords for all of her accounts and she knows they can log on and check in at any point. In the past year, there have only been a couple of times she's felt uncomfortable about friend requests. "We've just tried to let our kids know you don't have to befriend everyone that asks you to be a friend on Facebook. You can ignore them," said Donna Cooper.
Detective Dodd also wants parents to know it's acceptable to keep your children off sites like Facebook completely. If they aren't sharing information online, they can't become the next internet victim.