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Online socializing offers people an opportunity to connect with one another from distances afar using live time. All a user typically needs is an internet device and a connection. This technology is something that that was non-existent to the general public decades ago. Within the last decade social media, an offspring of this technology has taken on a course of its own. It allows virtually anyone to have a global voice, including Batman, other characters created from imagination and political movements to name a few.

A study that followed a group of American teen girls who socialize online discovered that nearly a third of them met up with someone whom they had solely interacted with online, outside of the internet. Not all encounters end up being favorable for the teen girls because people that target them generally have a sexually explicit goal in mind.

The study tracked the online and offline activities of 250 girls ranging from 14- to 17-years-old for a period of a little bit over a year. Results from the study raised concerns amongst the researchers as to the safety of the teens, close to thirty percent of them had an outside encounter with an acquaintance known only through the internet.

Girls with a history of neglect or physical or sexual abuse transpired traces of those experiences online through image, text, and video or audio in ways that can be interpreted as sexually explicit and provocative. This behavior, according to the researchers, is something that increases the risk of teens having encounters with online strangers whose sole goal is to prey upon and exploit those girls in person.

“Statistics show that in and of itself, the Internet is not as dangerous a place as, for example, walking through a really bad neighborhood,” said study lead author Jennie Noll, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati and director of research in behavioral medicine and clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “The vast majority of online meetings are benign.

“On the other hand, 90 percent of our adolescents have daily access to the Internet, and there is a risk surrounding offline meetings with strangers, and that risk exists for everyone,” Noll added. “So even if just 1 percent of them end up having a dangerous encounter with a stranger offline, it’s still a very big problem.

“On top of that, we found that kids who are particularly sexual and provocative online do receive more sexual advances from others online, and are more likely to meet these strangers, who, after sometimes many months of online interaction, they might not even view as a ‘stranger’ by the time they meet,” Noll continued. “So the implications are dangerous.”

The authors of the study included 130 girls that Child Protective Services identified as having a history of mistreatment in the form of abuse or neglect and 121 girls with a different background.

Findings from the study showed that teens with a history of behavioral issues, mental health issues, abuse or neglect were more likely to set up a profile with provocative material. Those with such profiles, found themselves incurring sexually-related solicitations over the internet from strangers, often to arrange offline meetings.

Parental involvement and personal monitoring of a child’s online behavior proved to be effective methods in identifying and reducing solicitations or high-risk internet behavior – parental control software and filtering did not.

“As parents, you always have the right to observe your kids without their knowing,” she said. “But I would be careful about intervening in any way that might cause them to shut down and hide, because the most effective thing to do is to have your kids communicate with you openly — without shame or accusation — about what their online lives actually look like.”

Dr. Jonathan Pletcher, clinical director of adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, said “there’s no one-size-fits-all parenting for all of this.” Parents have to work hard to build an actual relationship with their kinds and establish rules for internet usage. Sooner or later children will go online with or without the permission of a parent.

“At this point, it’s a life skill that has become almost essential for teens, so it’s going to happen,” he added. “What’s needed is parental supervision to help them learn how to make these online connections safely.”

If you discover that your child was injured by a person they met online, contact a personal injury lawyer. You may be entitled to compensation to cover medical bills and lost wages.

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