It's counterproductive to lecture teenagers about the dangers of online predators, according to a leading psychologist following revelations a Sydney schoolgirl fled to the US to have sex with a man she met on Snapchat.
The Lindfield teenager was reported missing on April 11 and found a month later in New York with the man who allegedly groomed her for several months and received naked photos of her before sending her money for a plane ticket.
"I shook my head and cried for her," parenting expert and father of six Dr Justin Coulson said on Friday after learning of the incident.
"It's a devastating case but it doesn't happen like that very often and our kids know that."
He said children don't understand the consequences of what they're consenting to, so "whether they're eight or 16. It's never consensual, it's always abuse."
However lecturing children about predators both on- and offline and scaring them with extreme cases won't work, Dr Coulson told AAP.
"They'll come up with reasons why it wouldn't happen to them," the international speaker and author says.
"We've got to be talking to them. Not in an intrusive, policing way but in a genuine, caring way. This is perhaps the most important thing we don't do."
The adolescent brain has a "stunted ability" to get a feel for a scenario, including a potentially threatening one, and while teenagers can foresee the consequences they "don't really care about them".
"They don't think they're vulnerable, they think they're six-foot-tall and bulletproof," Dr Coulson said.
Teens don't respond to that "gut feeling" that adults have.
And parents who says it "couldn't happen to their child or at their school is deluded because it can and it does every day."
The online world, including Facebook and image-sharing apps Instagram and Snapchat, has made it easier for those with "inappropriate motivations" to access to potentially vulnerable people, he said.
He advises parents to get up speed with their literacy.
They should ask their children how they feel about certain situations and teach them to identify the signs of grooming. For example, when a teen is asked online what they're wearing and then what they're wearing under that.
Even though parents may find the conversation uncomfortable, it's one that has to be had.