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Ohio Study Confirms Risky Online Teenage Behavior

PHOTO: 30% of teen girls reported having offline meetings with people they met on the Internet.
PHOTO: 30% of teen girls reported having offline meetings with people they met on the Internet.
January 25, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio – New research finds the Internet can be a particularly dangerous place for teenage girls.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Jennie Noll, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, says 30 percent of teen girls report meeting with people they met on the Internet. And the research shows those meetings are more likely to happen for girls who engage in high-risk behaviors.

Noll says those who troll the web for vulnerable teens are looking for a specific type of online profile.

"A girl who maybe has maybe put herself in a bikini, or describes herself as a sexual person,” Noll says. “Or describes herself as someone who is willing to engage in some sexual conversation. Then that might be the person that you stop and talk to."

Noll says another point of concern is that abused or neglected teenage girls are more likely to present themselves online in a sexually provocative way. She says parents can do a lot to change their child's behavior and just need to be willing to have those hard conversations about the dangers online.

She adds that establishing good face-to-face family communication time that doesn't involve being plugged in, can go along way in building trust.

Noll says the lines of communication can easily be shut down if a teenager simply thinks he or she is being spied on. She says talk to your children about the consequences of their online behavior without being accusing or shaming. One suggestion is to ask them to educate you.

"Engage them by saying 'Hey, help me figure this out. How can I follow you on Twitter?' Noll says. “Or, 'What does this hashtag thing mean?' And they're actually educating me, and by doing so I'm creating a bond of trust, and I can have conversations in the midst of that about dangerous ways to present themselves."

The new study is part of a larger body of Noll's work on high-risk Internet behaviors. She's heard some chilling tales from girls who believed they were meeting someone who is quite different than who really shows up. She describes one girl's story:

"A guy was friends with me on Facebook and he suggested that we finally meet and I didn't see any harm with it. And I met him at the mall and he asked me if I would go somewhere else with him, I got in the car, and then he took me somewhere and that's where the victimization happened."

The study was published in the eFirst pages of the journal Pediatrics.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH