MORGAN -- The latest Morgan Empowered meeting warned parents about the dangers of the Internet and "sexting," an act more and more Morgan youths are doing.
Morgan High graduate Chet Brooks, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Northern Utah Therapy Services, compares sex to a river: It can be beautiful, awesome, productive, serene and life-giving, or it can be dangerous and destructive.
"The goal is not to dry up the river," Brooks said. "The goal is to have healthy banks and the right amount of flow."
Pornography can pollute water and cause the river to overflow its banks, he said. Sex offenders can act as a backhoe, pulling away at the banks of a victim's river.
And sex offenders are increasingly on the prowl for young children, warns Sariah Donnahoo, a behavioral analyst with the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
What teens and parents alike may not realize is that any attempt to engage in sexually explicit conversations with a minor via computer or cell phone is illegal, Donnahoo said.
On one end, you have an older man, sometimes posing as a teenager, eager to seduce a teenager in Internet chat rooms or through e-mail. On the other end, you have an attention- and affection-hungry teen looking for romance.
The combination can be disastrous, especially when teens are willing to send sexually explicit photos of themselves to their new "friend" they have begun to trust.
Sending such text messages with a cell phone is often referred to as "sexting" rather than "texting."
"It takes a long time for (teens) to realize they've been played for a fool, to break that cycle," Donnahoo said.
She advises parents to place computers in family areas of the home rather than private bedrooms and pay attention to temporary Internet files, cookies and sites bookmarked by their children.
"Parental control is a fallacy," she said.
"To protect their children, parents need to talk to their children about the Internet and monitor their Internet usage.
"Kids are going to listen to the loudest source. Teach them to beware of technology and how it can be used against them."
"You're not going to be able to police everything," he said. "We need to empower our children, teach them to be healthy sexual beings."
Donnahoo suggests establishing an Internet family policy such as one found at http://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/cmsdocuments/contract.pdf. Children can sign a downloadable contract that says they won't divulge such personal information as their address and phone number, won't share photos online and won't get together with anyone they met online.
Brooks said referring to children's private parts with anatomically correct terms from childhood is also helpful.
However, key to protecting children is educating them about Internet etiquette and the lack of privacy on the Internet.
"Once behind technology, kids let loose and say anything about anything," Donnahoo said.
"Things are easier to say in writing than face-to-face. If they were physically sitting in front of the whole U.S. and world, I'm sure some people wouldn't say what they say on blogs and Facebook."
And even with private settings, blogs and other social media aren't completely private, she said.
Often, colleges, universities, employers and government entities can ask for special allowances to view otherwise private profiles. Such access is allowed according to social medias' terms and conditions all users must agree to before a profile is accepted.
"You don't have a guarantee that the (privacy) controls will stay that way," Donnahoo said.
"You gave the information, but it's their website. Nothing is private anymore. We put a lot of trust in technology."
Donnahoo advised the audience gathered this week at Morgan High School to liken what they post on the Internet to their underwear drawer.
"If you don't want someone to go through your underwear drawer, don't put it in the middle of the street."