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Ohio Study: Sexy Online Images Can Lead to Risky Behavior in Teen Girls

June 1, 2009

Cincinnati – A sexy virtual persona is not just an innocent way to fit in with the "cool" crowd. It can lead to risky behavior in teenage girls. A new study finds that teens who portray themselves in a provocative way online are more likely to receive online sexual advances and then meet the solicitors offline.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital psychologist Jennie Noll, the author of the study, says these are both situations that can get a young girl in over her head.

"These girls might not know socially how to deal with sexual advances or understand what it means when someone is coming onto you online and how to ward that off."

Parental monitoring of a teen's Internet use can make a difference. The study found that caregiver presence was associated with significantly fewer reports by adolescents of online solicitations.

Noll says parents can help by explaining to teens how virtual self-representations can influence behaviors and perceptions. The study is in the June issue of "Pediatrics."

The doctor says parents need to treat online images just as seriously as the real thing.

"If your daughter is leaving the house and she's dressed provocatively and scantily clad, you're going to stop her and say 'Hey, what's going on?' and 'Why are you doing this and what are you trying to say to people who are going to see you?'"

Reacting to curiosity about sex is a large part of normal adolescent development, Noll says, but it's also important for teens to understand what is real.

"The role models they have out there - the Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohans - are extremely provocative images. So girls aspire to be something that maybe they are not, in order to get attention, in order to be 'cool.'"

Dr. Noll says primary care physicians also should get involved and ask teen patients about their Internet use as an aspect of comprehensive care.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH