For 1 in 3 teen girls, online meetings lead to offline encounters

Study of 251 girls ages 14 to 17 also finds that abused or neglected teens are more likely to portray themselves online in a sexual manner.

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Almost one in three teen girls ages 14 to 17 say they've taken a relationship they started online into the real world, according to new research out of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The survey of 251 teen girls finds that 30 percent of them went ahead and met offline with people they'd initially met online -- and without first confirming those people were who they claimed to be.

Not all meetings end up being dangerous, of course, but Jennie Noll, lead author of the study, has discovered a disturbing trend among the girls she's surveyed. Those with a history of neglect or abuse (roughly half of the girls surveyed) were more likely to display their online personas in sexually provocative ways.

"These meetings may have been benign, but for an adolescent girl to do it is dangerous," says Noll, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

Noll -- whose study is part of a larger investigation of high-risk Internet behaviors and is funded by a five-year, $3.7 million federal grant -- adds that she's been privy to some pretty "chilling" stories over the course of her work.

"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 also reports that while parental monitoring did help lower the association between adolescent risk factors (such as a history of abuse) and online behaviors (such as posting provocative pictures), Internet filtering software did not. In other words, a little offline parenting seems to be the more effective approach.

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About the author

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Ore., and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.

 

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