As we all know, the content on the Internet is vast and uncontrollable. Aside from locking up your computer or smart phone, there's not much parents can do to keep their children from exploring online without supervision.
With the rise of social media and online dating, it's not unusual for adults to meet on the web. However, a new study confirms parents' worst fears: adults aren't the only ones meeting people on the Internet.
Is your kid safe . . . online?
For 16 months, Dr. Jennie Noll of the University of Cincinnati followed the online habits of 251 teenage girls. At the end of the time period, 30 percent of these girls reported that they had meet an "Internet stranger" in the flesh.
The results of the study are based on a survey of 251 adolescent girls aged 14 to 17 years old. Out of those 251, about 130 of these girls had reported "maltreatment," a documented form of abuse. Dr. Noll and her colleagues wanted to see if the girls who had suffered maltreatment were any more likely to engage in risky Internet behavior.
The answer is yes. Girls who have suffered from maltreatment are more likely to "present themselves online in a sexually provocative way than other teenage girls," according to the study's press release, leading to riskier Internet behavior.
The study was published on Monday, January 14 in the journal Pediatrics.
"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 Noll, who serves as director of research in behavioral medicine and clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behavior that may set the stage for harm."
As for what occurs during these meetings, one can only guess-the study didn't poll the girls on their activities. However, Dr. Noll did say that in a pilot study she had heard "chilling stories."
30 percent is a terrifying and overwhelming statistic for many parents, who feel, rightly so, that it's impossible to protect their children from everything on the Internet. But perhaps this study also shows that parents can head off dangerous behavior at its root, by protecting their children from abusive behavior in the home and at school, and keeping the lines of communication open.