Recently, two 13-year-olds in Bucks County were victims of sexual assault after "meeting" their adult perpetrators online. One child told police that he met the person on Grindr, a social networking application.

You may know where your children are…but do you know what your children are doing? They may be in their rooms but chances are they're socializing–online–with e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, texting, instant messaging, Twitter, Snapchat, Apsense, Myspace, WhatsApp, Group Me, Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, Kik or Omegle. As parents, it's important to know where in cyberspace your kids are going.

Teens today are social butterflies! A national survey of teenagers by the Pew Research Center explored the extent to which teens socialize online. The survey was conducted online (makes sense, that's where they are) and in live focus groups over several weeks in 2014 and 2015. More than half of today's teens 13-17 years old have made a new friend online, and almost a third have made more than five new friends this way, according to Pew research. About one-fifth of these teens have met an online friend in person. More results:

  • Social media: 72 percent of teens spend time with friends via social media; 23 percent do so daily. They have an average of 300 Facebook friends.
  • Instant messaging: 79 percent of teens instant message their friends; 27 percent do so daily.
  • Text messaging: 88 percent of teens text friends; 55 percent do so daily. For many teens, texting is the dominant way that they communicate on a day-to-day basis with their friends. In fact, only 25 percent of teens spend time daily with friends in person (outside of school).
  • Video games: 52 percent of teens play video games with friends online; 13 percent do so daily. Some of their competitors are friends they know on social media and others are strangers.
  • Messaging apps: 42 percent of teens spend time with friends on messaging apps such as Kik and WhatsApp; 14 percent do so every day.

"Parents need to learn more about sexual exploitation via use of the Internet," urged the Bucks County police from the cases above. Approximately one in seven Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 fall victim to unwanted online sexual solicitation, according to a study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center. These numbers are likely just the tip of the iceberg as many children are unwilling to report for fear of embarrassment and fear that parents will scrutinize and prohibit their online activity.

Many parents are "on it." The Pew Research Center's survey found that most parents check what their teens do online — including the websites they visit and their social media profiles.

  • More than half "friend" their teens on social media.
  • Most parents talk about acceptable online behavior with their teens.
  • Over half of parents limit the time that their teens can be online.
  • Most parents say they digitally "ground" their teens for violating family rules by taking away cellphones or internet privileges.
  • Nearly half of parents know the passwords to their teens' email accounts and cellphones, and more than a third know the password to their social media accounts.
  • Some use parental controls for blocking, filtering or monitoring their teens' digital activities.

My advice: Follow the lead of these concerned parents. Encourage your teens to tell you immediately if someone online wants to exchange inappropriate content or photos—or if anyone other than their real-world friends wants to meet them. If you suspect online sexual exploitation, contact your local police and consider going online yourself to file a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

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