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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

CONCORD, N.H. - The Internet can be a dangerous place, particularly for teenage girls, according to new research published in the eFirst pages of the journal Pediatrics.

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

Those who troll the web for vulnerable teens are looking for a specific type of online profile, Noll explained.

"That might be a girl who has put herself in a bikini, or describes herself as a sexual person," Noll said, "or describes herself as willing to engage in some sexual conversation. That might be the person a troller would stop and talk to."

Noll said parents can do a lot to change their child's behavior, but they need to be willing to have those hard conversations about the dangers online. Establishing good face-to-face family communication time that doesn't involve being plugged in can go along way in building trust, she added.

The lines of communication can easily be shut down if a teenager simply thinks he or she is being spied on, Noll noted. She suggested that parents talk to their children about the consequences of their online behavior without being accusing or shaming. For example, she said, ask them to educate you.

"Engage them by saying 'Hey, help me figure this out. How can I follow you on Twitter?' Noll said. "Or ask,'What does this hashtag thing mean?' Then they're actually educating me. 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.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH