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Study Confirms Risky Online Teenage Behavior

PHOTO: 30 percent of teen girls reported having offline meetings with people they met on the Internet.
PHOTO: 30 percent of teen girls reported having offline meetings with people they met on the Internet.
February 4, 2013

AUGUSTA, Maine - New research finds that the Internet can be a particularly dangerous place for teenaged girls. The lead author of the study, Jennie Noll, Ph.D., a psychologist, said 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.

Those who troll the web for vulnerable teenagers are looking for a specific type of online profile, according to Noll.

"A girl who's maybe has maybe put herself in a bikini, or describes herself as a sexual person, or describes herself as someone who's willing to engage in some sexual conversation, then that might be the person that you stop and talk to."

Noll said another point of concern is that abused or neglected teenage girls are more likely to present themselves online in a sexually provocative way. However, she noted, parents can do a lot to change their children's behavior and just need to be willing to have those hard conversations about the dangers online. She added that establishing good face-to-face family communication time that doesn't involved being plugged in can go a long way in building trust.

Noll said the lines of communication can easily be shut down if a teenager thinks he or she is simply being spied on. She says parents should try to talk to their 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?' or 'What does this hashtag thing mean?' and they're actually educating me, but in 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," she said.

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 was quite different from the person who actually showed up. She described 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.

The study is at

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME