Advocates, deputies caution parents to open communication with kids about safety online

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT)-- The Madison County Sheriff's Office has announced new charges against an Ardmore man, accused of soliciting nude photos and personal information from teenage girls in a chat room online.

Investigators say Jody Wade Witt  pretended to be a 15-year-old boy and got in chat rooms with juvenile females. Deputies say they know of five victims, and have only discovered the identity of one so far.

Child advocates say this is an unfortunate incident, but motivation to talk to children about internet safety.

Beth Jackson is the National Child Advocacy Center's Community Education Program Manager and a therapist. She said it's a good idea to talk to kids about safety online more than once as they grow, and start to use more devices and apps.

She suggests a conversation that's less talking "at" them, and more talking "to" them: "Let's just talk about it and what we can look for. Because I just want you to be safe," she suggested as an opening line.

She said sometimes it may seem fun to send photos or do things people online ask you to do, but it's important to show kids to "take a step back and go, 'Why do they want that? Why are they asking me for that?'... Anyone can be manipulated to make a bad decision," she cautioned.

Jackson says it's not about making children afraid, but motivating them to pay attention to their own safety and make smart choices. "If you've not seen them in real life, laid eyes on them, you're not really sure who you're talking with," she said.

Deputies echo that statement.

"Not posting pictures of indecent material is the biggest way to prevent [exploitation]," said Jeremy Hughes with the Madison County Sheriff's Office. "Because once you post it, you're no longer in control over it."

The NCAC has a list of resources to help you and your kids with this, listed on their website.

Click this link for parent resources, and this one for teens.