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Teen Health 411

What Puts Teens Online at Risk?

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I know parents want to do all they can to protect their teens from predators online. A study published last year in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggested that teens who converse with strangers online, particularly about sex, are more likely to fall prey to online harassment than teens who share their personal information on the Web. Another risk factor is acting aggressively - harassing others online, making rude or mean comments, or intentionally embarrassing others increases the risk of being victimized.

The study analyzed data from 1,497 American children between the ages of 10 and 117 who had completed a telephone survey. About half of the youth were female and 3/4s were white. Most came from well-educated households with high annual incomes. The interviews asked the youth how many of the following nine behaviors they had engaged in:
  • putting personal information online;
  • sending personal information online;
  • harassing or embarrassing someone;
  • make rude or nasty comments;
  • meeting someone online;
  • having people known only online on a buddy list;
  • talking about sex with someone known only online;
  • purposely visiting an X-rated Web site; and
  • downloading images from a file-sharing program.
More than one out of four of the youth interviewed reported engaging in four or more of these behaviors, and these youth were 11 times more likely to have been victimized than youth who reported none of those behaviors.

Parents need to know who their kids are talking to online and what they are doing in the online world. The authors of the study suggest parents visit their children's MySpace account, keep computers in public areas of the home, and know how to check the Internet use of your children. If you are not talking about Internet safety, you should.

Photo credit: bionicteaching
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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