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Study teaches dangers of teen girls’ offline encounters

Thirty percent of teen girls reported having offline encounters with people they had met and communicated with online, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Whether maltreatment of teens could be a contributor to high-risk Internet behavior, and whether higher-quality parenting demoralized teens from engaging in this behavior and offline meetings, were the primary aims for the study, conducted by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Research found that those teen girls presenting themselves as more sexually provocatively on their online profiles were more likely to be those who were maltreated at home. Those with more “high-risk, online profiles are more likely to lead to offline meetings,” according to a PsychCentral article on the study.

“Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behavior that may set the stage for harm,” Jennie Noll, the study's lead author, told PsychCentral. “If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen to start an online sexual discourse, they will more likely target someone who presents herself provocatively.”

High-quality parenting, and some parental monitoring, was found to most positively affect online behavior, whereas parental control software made no difference.

“Predators seek youths vulnerable to seduction, including those with histories of sexual or physical abuse, those who post sexually provocative photos/video and those who talk about sex with unknown people online,” according a 2008 University of New Hampshire study, “Online 'Predators' and Their Victims: Myths, Realities and Implications for Prevention and Treatment.”

Involvement by parents of their child's online activity, along with proper education about the dangers of high-risk online activity and communication, may be the best way to help prevent teen's involvement in such activities, according to the “2011 Parent-Teen Internet Safety Study” from GFI Software.

According to this study, 94 percent of parents report they've talked with their teens about Internet safety, though only 84 percent of teens reported having had their parents do so, and 10 percent say their parents have not.

In the same study, 73 percent of parents reported that they believe most teens do things online that they wouldn't feel comfortable having their parents know about.

“Unfortunately, both parents and their children may not understand that risky behavior on the Internet can have repercussions that extend beyond the teens themselves,” warned the study, referring to the viruses and malware that can take over computers, and personal information on them, from different Internet sites.

Mandy Morgan is an intern for the Deseret News, reporting on issues surrounding both family and values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying journalism and political science at Utah State University, and she hails from Highland, Utah.