“He was unable to live with father, because his house was too close to a school,” said his lawyer, David Lawrence. “He got kicked out school and couldn’t get a job.”

Minors also have been prosecuted as sex offenders for sexting, although Florida passed a law this year that decriminalized sexting charges among minors for first-time offenses.

The stakes also are getting higher as more employers and colleges start to check out applicants through their social media pages and Google searches.

Nearly a quarter of admissions officials check out an applicants’ Facebook page, up from 10 percent in 2008, according to a new survey from Kaplan Test Prep. And a 2010 survey from Microsoft showed that nearly 70 percent of all companies used the web to research job candidates.

Hinduja said people should focus on creating websites and social media profiles that present a positive online presence.

“Colleges, grad schools, employers—they get a boatload of applications,” he said. “What’s the quickest way to thin out the pile? Run your first and last name through Google.”

Here are Hinduja’s tips for safe social networking:

• Learn about and use the privacy and security settings on social networks. Consider restricting access to your page to a select group of people—for example, your friends from school, your club, your team, your community groups, or your family.

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