One-third of teen girls meet strangers from the Internet in person: U.S. study
Published Monday, January 14, 2013 5:36PM EST
Nearly one-third of teen girls are engaging in potentially risky behaviour by meeting strangers they’ve encountered on the Internet in person, a new U.S. study finds.
The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, found that 30 per cent of the teen girls surveyed reported meeting up with at least one person they had met online, whose identity had not been confirmed before their meeting.
"These meetings may have been benign, but for an adolescent girl to do it is dangerous," psychologist and lead researcher Dr. Jennie Noll said in a statement.
The study, based out of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, examined the Internet behaviour of 251 adolescent girls aged 14 to 17 years. Of the sample, 130 experienced maltreatment and 121 had not.
The study highlights the risks teen girls face in when they go online -- and girls who’ve been victims of abuse or neglect are at an even higher risk.
Teen girls who suffered abuse or neglect were more likely to present themselves online in sexually provocative ways, and research shows that high-risk, online profiles on social media sites are more likely to result in offline meetings, Noll said.
"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."
U.S. survey data from 2011 found that 95 per cent of American teens aged 12 to 17 years have access to the Internet and 80 per cent use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
The study said that while popular social networking sites can enhance teen development and the majority of online encounters are harmless, contact with strangers can pose dangers for teenage girls.
“Many adolescents do not possess the necessary skills to ward off sexual advances whether online or in person,” the study said.
The study also found that parental control software that filters the Internet made little difference in high-risk Internet behaviour, which includes activities such as seeking out adult content, presenting oneself provocatively on social media sites and receiving sexual advances online.
But “high-quality parenting” and parental monitoring did help curb risky online behaviour.
The study measured “high-quality parenting” in part as the presence of a caregiver during mealtimes, before and after school and at bedtime.
The study builds on Noll’s body of research which focuses on risky Internet behaviour.
Noll said that in a previous study, when she asked girls if they had met strangers they’d met online in person she heard some “chilling” stories.
"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.