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Parental oversight is the first line of protection

It was less than a week ago when we collectively jumped to the same conclusion: A sexual predator has lured another young woman from the safety of her home. It was an easy leap, because it happens all too often.

How interesting, however, to learn the rest of the story. It's quite likely the 20-year-old man - who met up with the 15-year-old Gresham girl - was actually the one fooled in this scenario. Police are reporting the young lady misrepresented her age on social media websites - describing herself as 18 years old or older. The young man simply may have taken her life story at face value.

That's an interesting twist that gives yet another reason for parents to carefully monitor their children's use of social media. It's not just that predators can be stalking your child, but also that your teen may be engaged in misguided behaviors that will get them and others in trouble.

We were fully in the corner of this girl's mom, who left no stone unturned in rallying broad support in the effort to find her daughter. We're still in her corner. We would have expected nothing less than an all-out blitz to bring her daughter home, no matter the circumstances that led to her disappearance in the first place.

But with the benefit of hindsight, we wonder if this couldn't have been prevented from happening simply by monitoring more carefully what was being posted online.

This one case can be in some small way a wake-up call to parents of the staggering statistics in relation to the number of teens who are online and unwatched.

Pure Sight (puresight.com) reports that more than 90 percent of Americans between the ages of 12-17 are Internet users. Our children are growing more and more tech savvy, and in many ways have outdistanced their parents at maneuvering through social media.

Meanwhile, a 2007 study - 'Teens, Privacy and Online Social Networks' - conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project reveals the dangers faced by vulnerable young people.

• One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web.

• 30 percent of the victims of Internet sexual exploitation are boys.

• In 100 percent of the cases, teens who are the victims of sexual predators have gone willingly to meet with them.

• 75 percent of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services.

The staggering truth, however, does not appear in these statistics: that most cases of child victimization or misuse of social media are preventable if only parents would set boundaries, exercise strict oversight and impose consequences when those boundaries are breached.

The No.1 best boundary? Mom and dad must be friends on your Facebook account, or no car, no cell phone, no Internet, no …

Get the picture?