Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, 30 percent of teenage girls have met someone offline who they first met online.
The teenage girls reported that they had offline meetings with people they met on the Internet, and whose identity had not been fully confirmed before meeting.
“These meetings may have been benign, but for an adolescent girl to do it is dangerous,” Jennie Noll, PhD, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
According to Dr. Noll, director of research in behavioral medicine and clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children’s, the research shows that high-risk, online profiles are more likely to lead to offline meetings.
“If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen to start an online sexual discourse, they will more likely target someone who presents herself provocatively,” she said. “Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behavior that may set the stage for harm.”
The researchers studied 251 adolescent girls between the ages of 14 and 17, about half of which were victims of abuse or neglect.
Noll said that if families of the girls in the study had installed Internet filtering software at the house, it did not make a difference in the association between maltreatment and high-risk Internet behaviors.
These behaviors included intentionally seeking adult content, provocative self-presentations on social network sites and receiving sexual advances online.
The new study is part of a larger study by the team on high-risk Internet behaviors. During a “pilot study,” Noll said she asked girls whether they had ever met anyone offline after meeting them online.
“One patient told a story about a guy who started texting her a lot, and he seemed ‘really nice.’ So she agreed to meet him at the mall, she got in his car, they drove somewhere and he raped her,” Noll said.
Ultimately, the study points out the dangers in meeting strangers online, and show that parents should be having conversations with their teenagers about these risks.
The study was supported by a $3.7 million federal grant from the National Institutes of Health to help deepen the data about high risk Internet behaviors.