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No doubt, the Internet can be an extremely useful tool for young people.

But instant messaging, chat rooms, emails and social networking sites can also bring trouble - from cyberbullying to more serious Internet dangers, including exposure to sexual predators.

But heading to the local bar doesn't appeal, and friends have no one to suggest. For many who are dissatisfied with the old-fashioned way of meeting new people, online dating has become an acceptable and popular alternative.

Relationship therapist Terri Orbuch says one of the advantages of online dating is it offers access to a large pool of people you can meet while staying comfortable in your own home. "And it opens you up to a wide-open world of potential matches." According to Online Dating Magazine, 20% of Americans have gone out on a date with someone they met on line.

Use these tips to help navigate the realm of online dating.

The reward at the end could very well be meeting that someone special you've been looking for.

While sexual predators have targeted children in chat rooms, they migrate to wherever young people go online, Shehan says.

More predators are now scouring social networking sites, such as My Space and Xanga, because these sites have centralized so much information, Shehan says.

Cyberbullying differs from schoolyard bullying, Handy says. "When it happens online, there's no one to filter it," she says.

And cyberbullies don't witness their victims' reactions, the way they might if they insulted others to their faces.

"They do it to show that they're big enough, popular enough, cool enough to get away with it." Often, kids don't tell parents they're being cyberbullied; they're afraid their parents will overreact or yank Internet privileges, Aftab adds. But if the cyberbullying involves any physical threat, you may need to call the police.

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