High-risk online behaviors by Sacramento children and teenagers is not a healthy trend. The problem is national, and sometimes global. The issue is teenage girls who report meeting offline with someone they met online. Pediatricians research this special risk because it affects children and teenagers with access to online social groups via smart phones and computers that connect to the Internet. Chat groups and social media networking has become a major health risk issue.
The familiar scenario is girl meets male online, then in person. She gets into his car, usually after meeting at a mall. He drives to a secluded area or even an empty parking lot, and the teenage girls is forcibly raped. It has happened to girls as young as 11 or 12. Sacramento has a rising rate of trafficking, which is a form of modern slavery.
The problem also is global. Not only trafficking, but using Internet social groups for children and teenagers to meet strangers that they also meet in person. And the problem is world-wide, wherever there's online socializing. For example, you can see global news cases such as the site, "Facebook used to kidnap and rape in Indonesia | Sci-Tech."
A new study published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, highlights the special risk faced by abused and neglected teen girls. There risks to the girl's health is compounded by a combination of junk food, tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse in many cases, or for girls only wanting to talk to people, it could be a way to compensate for the loss of a father figure or emotional distance from family.
Check out in the journal Pediatrics the abstract of a study, "How Risky Are Social Networking Sites? A Comparison of Places Online Where Youth Sexual Solicitation and Harassment Occurs, " and another study in the journal Pediatrics, "Social networking sites: a novel portal for communication." One new study from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlights the risk that female teenagers face when they go online -- a risk heightened for teen girls who have been victims of abuse or neglect.
The research, published in the eFirst pages of the journal Pediatrics, shows that 30 percent of teenagers reported having offline meetings with people they have met on the Internet and whose identity had not been fully confirmed prior to the meeting.
"These meetings may have been benign, but for an adolescent girl to do it is dangerous," says Jennie Noll, PhD, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the study's lead author, in a January 14, 2013 news release, "30 percent of teen girls report meeting offline with someone they met online."
Teenage girls were more likely to present themselves online in a provocative way
Moreover, abused or neglected teenage girls were more likely to present themselves online in a sexually provocative way than other teenage girls. Research shows that high-risk, online profiles are more likely to lead to offline meetings, according to Dr. Noll, director of research in behavioral medicine and clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children's.
"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 says. "Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behavior that may set the stage for harm."
Dr. Noll and her colleagues studied 251 adolescent girls between the ages of 14 and 17. About half were victims of abuse or neglect.
If families installed Internet filtering software at home, it made no difference in the association between maltreatment and high-risk Internet behaviors, says Dr. Noll. These behaviors included intentionally seeking adult content, provocative self-presentations on social networking sites and receiving sexual advances online. On the other hand, "high quality parenting" and parental monitoring helped reduce the association between adolescent risk factors and these online behaviors, she says.
The new study is part of a larger body of Dr. Noll's work on high-risk Internet behaviors. In a previous, pilot study, she asked girls whether they have ever met anyone offline after meeting them online and heard some "chilling" stories," she says.
"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."
The Pediatrics study was supported by a grant (R01HD052533) from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Noll's continuing work is funded by a five-year, $3.7 million federal grant to gain deeper data about high risk Internet behaviors.