Maltreated Teen Girls Linked to Risky Online, Offline Behaviors

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Maltreated Teen Girls Linked to Risky Online, Offline Behaviors

Note: Headlines for this news item, like "30% of teen girls admit to real-life meeting with online 'stranger,'" don't match the reality of the research. The research was done with a cohort of "at-risk" girls, ages 14-17, who had a history of abuse or neglect. What the research finds is that girls who have such a history have an increased occurance of at-risk behaviors both online and offline. So, yes, 30% of the girls in the study admitted to having in-person meeting with online strangers, but this in no way indicates that the risk applies to all teen girls, as the headline suggests at first glance.

In a new study of teen girls who had a history of abuse or neglect, researchers found a link to increased risk behaviors both online and offline.

Researchers from the University of Cincinnati found that maltreated girls reported engaging in more risky behavior, online and off, and had more risque social networking profiles. Thirty percent of the girls studied reported meeting up with someone offline who they'd initially met online. Those who did so more than once also sought out sexual content online and had the most provocative profiles.

Further, girls whose parents were actively involved in monitoring their Internet behavior reduced the girls' chances both of having a high-risk profile and of exhibiting real life high-risk behavior.

Researchers also noted that whether or not the girls in the study were maltreated, all of the subjects were considered "high risk," so these results can't be generalized to all adolescent Internet users. They do, however, bring to light a complicated cycle in need of interventions -- girls who already are at risk of harm are more likely to use the Internet in a way that further heightens that risk. "If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen to start an online sexual discourse, they will more likely target someone who presents herself provocatively," said Dr. Jennie Noll, the study's lead author. "Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behavior that may set the stage for harm."

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