• Mon, Jan 14 2013

Alarming Number Of Teen Girls Meeting Strangers On Internet (…Which I Stupidly Did At 15)

teenage-online-dating

When I was in early high school, I met a friend who was all about MySpace (remember that creepy, glittery, even-more-vain-than-Tumblr beta Facebook?). She had met several guys via the site after exchanging lots of edited, angled photos — thereby making it a little difficult to recognize one another — and had actually seen some success with dating one or two of them. At the time, I was awkward, unhealthily pale and afraid of approaching guys, so her means of acquiring significant others seemed pretty appealing. Of course, teenage online dating via social networking sites is extremely normalized nowadays, but at the time, it was new territory that was sort of seeing its primitive stages.

I started talking to some guy named Matt and we hit it off because, shockingly, bored, single 15-year-olds tend to have a lot in common. For example, we were both bored and single. The friend who had gotten me into the whole MySpace dating thing claimed she had gone out with him at some point (which he later denied when I questioned his introducing himself to her), so at the time, I felt like it was safe to meet him. We wound up seeing a movie, I believe, and then getting to know each other further, culminating a few weeks later into an awkward make out session in my basement wherein we both realized we weren’t actually attracted to one another. So it goes.

Granted, at least mostly-stupid 15-year-old me had the sense to meet the guy in the mall and I was lucky that he was just some sophomore Catholic school stoner who was dropped off by his mom just like myself, but this is not the case with everybody. It’s eerily easy to lie on the Internet and so many people take advantage of that fact which is pretty unsurprising to most of us who have lived with and been gradually jaded by the web. However, more young girls than ever are meeting strangers from the Internet.

30 percent of surveyed teenage girls reported meeting strangers from the Internet, even when their identities were not yet confirmed. Jennie Noll, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, conducted the study that revealed these alarming results. In it, Noll and her team surveyed more than 250 teenage girls ages 14 to 17, 130 of whom had “experienced a documented form of abuse or maltreatment.” They were attempting to see if the girls who had experienced trauma at the hands of others were more likely to engage in risky Internet behavior (like meeting somebody from the Internet or having an explicit profile on a social media site).

Best case scenario. really.

The results of the study after about a year to 16 months of observation showed that 30 percent had met a stranger from the Internet in real life, with the young women who had experienced abuse being more likely to do so. Noll said that predators tend to target teens who have more risque photos than others:

“If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen to start an online sexual discourse, they will more likely target someone who presents herself provocatively. Maltreatment poses a unique risk for online behavior that may set the stage for harm.”

Of course, regardless of what a kid has on her Facebook or wherever else, she doesn’t deserve to be abused by some e-predator. Nevertheless, it’s a lot different than when an adult has explicit photos. For one thing, it’s obviously illegal for minors to have highly sexual photos on the Internet, but it’s also important to remember that a lot of the the creeps on the Internet know how to manipulate young teenagers into feeling safe, comfortable and as though the two are tight friends. Remember how lonely middle and high school were? Sometimes, the Internet is the only place where kids feel like they can make connections — even though those connections are not always safe ones.

In order to combat the potential for kids to engage in such behavior, it’s important for parents to take a role in their kids’ e-lives. According to the study, those filtering programs that remove sexual content from view don’t actually have any impact on the teens’ behavior. However, building trust between the parents and kids as well as keeping an eye on what teens are doing can greatly reduce the risk of them winding up in a terrible position like around some predator they thought was their friend. And it’s also important that parents keep in mind that their daughters and sons can partake in this type of behavior and be in danger even if they’re not showing skin in photos and have never experienced trauma before.

Hopefully, this number reduces in the near future, as hypocritical as that sounds since I once engaged in such an idiotic act as meeting somebody from the Internet when I was just a youngish teenager. But until then, it’s best to just discuss the importance of being safe online with your younger siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and kids.

Photo: Loosepunctuation / Flickr

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  • Tea

    I met my would-be husband on a RPG when I was 15, and met in person at 16. I don’t see what the problem is so long as parents are in the loop.

    We were both aware of the risks, met in a very public place, and joked that we were glad the other was not a 40+ Year old scary person.

    • bumbler

      I agree, I met plenty of people from online. I tried to be as safe as my teenage brain could manage; I went with at least one friend and it was always a public place. I think MOST teens can be trusted to make decent decisions most of the time. Granted, one bad choice is all it takes to end up duct taped in some creeper’s trunk, but letting your kid drive themselves to school is probably a much greater risk to their safety in the big picture of things.

  • meteor_echo

    I’ve had far worse experiences with people IRL than the ones from online. My IRL friends turned out to be abusers, gossipers, and one was even a rapist, but I’ve seen nothing but good things from the people I met online. I’m getting married to one of them, by the way :)

    • Samantha_Escobar

      You know, this is a pretty excellent point. I’ve had close friends turn out to be terrible people even after I’d known them for years. :( Sometimes I think people you meet online can be rad, I just think it’s best to wait until you’re an adult to do so! :)

  • k

    I met my second boyfriend online, back in the days of AOL chat. our parents dropped us at the mall that was a half way meeting point, fine enough guy. we dated for 6 months or somethign then broke up, but we were only 16 and 17

  • TheLily

    When I was fourteen, I made contact with this guy who seemed really cool. He was a night owl though. My parents were gone camping and I had a co-worker of my mother’s staying at the house (she was house-sitting, not baby-sitting, I was fourteen!). So, I had two friends over. All three of us went out to meet him at one in the morning.

    That alone should have been the worst of it, but of course this guy was 17 (though he looked like he was in his thirties, long hair and a scraggly beard). I ended up ditching my friends and we walked around town until after the sun rose. He was an amazing conversationalist.

    Unfortunately my friends had woken up the woman staying at my house and they were ten minutes away from calling the police (I don’t know why they waited so long. If I was babysitting and I heard that the 14 year old was gone, I’d freak out and call the police and her parents!) Anyhow, he and I dated for three or four months before I moved onto another guy I met (also 17.)

    I’ve met a lot of people from the inter-tubes over the years and will probably continue to, but honestly, I’m surprised I’m not dead.

    I do plan on telling my kids this story and explaining to them that while I’m fine, there are plenty of girls and boys who would not walk away from that situation and if I ever hear that they did, heaven help them I’ll whoop their ass so bad that they’ll not walk for a week!

  • Haily

    I had this terribly naive girl friend who would always be flirting with ten guys at once on the internet, one in particular though. We were 16 at the time, and this man she flirted with was in his 30′s. She felt so good that an older man was “intrigued” by her. The thing is, this guy lived in Australia, and he claimed to have a lot of money. I only knew so much about their relationship because she would use my laptop to chat and web-cam with him, and I’d always be around. Anyway, this guy goes ahead and buys a one-way ticket to australia for her, and that is when I intervened. I told her mother, she called the police and it turned out, this guy was a registered sex offender, and had child porn on his computer, and pictures of various underage naked girls taped all over his bedroom. The sad ending is that girl never forgave me, even four years later.

  • Jsil

    hopefully some of these kids are at least using TellBuddy.com or something similar when meeting up. you have no idea who you’re meeting..