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Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month - Online Connections

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 5, 2013

BETHESDA, Md. - New research finds that the Internet can be a particularly dangerous place for teenaged girls. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and the lead author of the study, Jennie Noll, Ph.D., a psychologist, said 30 percent of teen girls report meeting face to face with people whose acquaintance they had made on the Internet. And the research shows such 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, then that might be the person that you stop and talk to."

Noll said parents can do a lot to change their children's behavior and make them aware of their risks, but they need to be willing to have those hard conversations about the dangers online.

Noll said the lines of communication can easily be shut down if a teenager thinks he or she is simply being spied on, and that parents should try to talk to their children about the consequences of their online behavior without being accusing or shaming.

One suggestion she made 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," said Noll.

The new study is part of a larger body of Noll's work on high-risk Internet behaviors. It was published in the eFirst pages of the journal Pediatrics, and is available at tinyurl.com/aaack49.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD