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U.S. study highlights risks faced by teen girls in on-line social life


13:18, January 15, 2013

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- About 30 percent of U.S. female teenagers reported having off-line meetings with people they have met on the Internet and whose identity had not been fully confirmed prior to the meeting, according to a study published Monday in the eFirst pages of the journal Pediatrics.

The study highlights the risk that female teenagers face when they go on-line -- a risk heightened for teen girls who have been victims of abuse or neglect, the researchers said.

"These meetings may have been benign, but for an adolescent girl to do it is dangerous," says Jennie Noll, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the study's lead author.

Moreover, abused or neglected teenage girls were more likely to present themselves on-line in a sexually provocative way than other teenage girls. Research shows that high-risk, on-line profiles are more likely to lead to off-line meetings.

"If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen to start an on- line sexual discourse, they will more likely target someone who presents herself provocatively," Noll says. "Maltreatment poses a unique risk for on-line behavior that may set the stage for harm."

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 Noll. These behaviors included intentionally seeking adult content, provocative self- presentations on social networking sites and receiving sexual advances on-line. On the other hand, "high quality parenting" and parental monitoring helped reduce the association between adolescent risk factors and these on-line behaviors, she says.

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