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‘Parents should really be educating themselves,’ Experts warn of social media perils following investigation of senator

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Mike Koehler has an advantage over most parents when it comes to keeping his kids safe online.

Social media literacy is his job, as president and chief strategist at Smirk New Media.

But, even he acknowledges the challenges these days, keeping up with a rapidly developing and changing technical landscape.

"We're really chasing kids from app to app," Koehler said. "This whole time parents have been playing defense to make sure that these things don't interfere with their kids."

There are sure to be a few more conversations around Oklahoma City dinner tables, after the Canadian County district attorney brought charges against State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City), who is accused of soliciting sex from a minor.

Police found Shortey and a 17-year-old boy in a Moore motel room.

According to a police report, the two exchanged messages using an online chat app called 'Kik.'

"A parent might grab a kid's phone, and see Kik and have never heard of it before, but Kik has 300 million users," Koehler said. "It's sort of incumbent on a parent to know what SnapChat is, to know what Kik is, to know what these apps are and really be proactive about the downloading of them."

The best way to do that is by requiring an adult's password before any app can be purchased.

Koehler said parents should also keep an eye on which apps are trending each month and educate themselves about them.

"They should not be afraid to just take the phone, and look at it and see what's being used and what's not," he said.

Whitney Anderson, executive director of The Dragonfly Home Human Trafficking Relief and Restoration Center, agrees education and communication are the ways to go.

"If parents are really interested, it is less likely the child will seek attention from other, unhealthy resources," she said. "So, that looks like really asking the hard questions, like 'Who are you hanging out with? What's going on? What are you doing today?' Monitoring their social media."

Already, Anderson said, The Dragonfly Home receives daily calls from parents concerned about their child's well-being.

"It's a very dangerous world, and there are bad people out there that are willing to exploit teens," she said.

And, it's possible the teen in this situation, whose girlfriend told police the boy had a "history" of soliciting himself on Craigslist, was exploited himself.

"We usually see people, if they're teenagers and they're involved or they're online and they're being sold, it's typically because they're being trafficked or they're working for someone," she said. "They're usually not doing it by themselves."