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Why mom enlisted an online sleuth to keep tabs on child

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Author Vicki Courtney in Texas keeps close tabs on her 13-year-old son, Hayden, by monitoring his instant messages (IMs) from a computer in the next room. Sometimes Hayden knows. Sometimes he doesn't.

Carolina Aitken, a mom in Santa Rosa, Calif., took her two teenage sons on the Dr. Phil show after she exposed their Internet misuse. She had contacted them via e-mail as "Candy Sweetness," a fictitious 16-year-old girl, to see if she could get them to give up their home phone number. One did.

A mother in State College, Pa., who asked to remain anonymous because she's embarrassed by her Internet naiveté, recruited a techno-savvy friend to search for unpublished Web log addresses of her 12-year-old daughter. The friend found the girl posing as an 18-year-old on MySpace.com, a social-networking site for teens.

Amid hand-wringing over the increasing sophistication of online sexual predators, financial scammers, and other cyber-solicitors, more moms and dads are resolving to become their children's "Big Brothers" – in both the collegial and the Orwellian sense, but too few parents are doing as much as they should, Internet experts say.

"A larger percentage of parents are getting involved in ways to advise, watch over and even control what their kids are doing," says Ken Colburn, founder and president of Data Doctors Computer Services, a nationwide computer service, which also publishes warning signs to identify net-addicted teens, safety tips, parental advice, and family contracts for Internet use. "But that involvement is still not anywhere close to where it needs to be."

Officials say 750,000 sexual predators have been identified on the Web. One in five children between grades 7 and 11 has been contacted on the Web by someone asking to meet, according to Rob Nickel, author of "Staying Safe in a Wired World: A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety."

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