Monday, January 28, 2013

The Flip Side of "Fake Online Girlfriend" -- Real Danger

The "fake online girlfriend" hoax involving Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o has made headlines for a couple of weeks now. But such sensationalism aside, a new report highlights very real dangers online relationships can present. It shows the Internet can be an especially dangerous place for teenage girls.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Jennie Noll, a psychologist, says 30 percent of teen girls report meeting face-to-face with people they met on the Internet, and the research shows those meetings are more likely to happen for girls who engage in high-risk behaviors.

Noll says those who troll the web for vulnerable teens are looking for a specific type of online profile.

"A girl who maybe has maybe put herself in a bikini, or describes herself as a sexual person, or describes herself as someone who is willing to engage in some sexual conversation," Noll says, might attract the attention of such a searcher. "Then that might be the person that you stop and talk to."

Noll says abused or neglected teenage girls are more likely to present themselves online in a sexually provocative way. She says parents can do a lot to change their children's behavior and just need to be willing to have those hard conversations about the dangers online.

The new study is part of a larger body of Noll's work on high-risk Internet behaviors. She's heard some chilling tales from girls who believed they were meeting someone who is quite different from the person who really shows up. She describes one girl's story:

"A guy was friends with me on Facebook and he suggested that we finally meet and I didn't see any harm with it. And I met him at the mall and he asked me if I would go somewhere else with him, I got in the car, and then he took me somewhere and that's where the victimization happened."

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

The study was published in the eFirst pages of the journal Pediatrics.

The study is at tinyurl.com/aaack49.


Tom Joseph

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