Internet Predators Target Teens with Depression, Acne and Mental Illness
Bipolar, Acne, Depression, Chronic Illness? Your Teen May be More Vulnerable
Net predators mostly target vulnerable teens. Find out which teens are most vulnerable and how to protect them. Acne, depression, bipolar put teens at risk.
It’s not our youngest children, but our teens that are most at risk from internet predators. So say Janis Wolak, JD, David Finkelhor, PhD, Kimberly Mitchell, PhD and Michele Ybarra, PhD, at the Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire. In a study entitled “Online Predators and Their Victims: Myths, Realties and Implications” published in the February/March 2008 issue of American Psychologist, the researchers reveal that it’s vulnerable teens rather than younger children who are the targets of predatory adults. The journal is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
In opposition to popular opinion, adult predators are not posing as teens to attract very young children and they don’t generally abduct or rape children. Instead the study showed that most predators didn’t hide their adult status, only their motivations, and that teens in particular are their intended victims.
In these scenarios they attempted to gain the trust of a vulnerable teen and then seduced them into sexually motivated relationships or meetings.
A considerable amount of time may be spent courting these teens who are often from difficult family backgrounds or vulnerable circumstances. Any teen might be vulnerable but teens with chronic illness, teenage acne, physical disability, bipolar disorder, depression, body image concerns and eating disorders are at particular risk.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of teens who may easily be lured into the web of an online predator. Since the predator may grow to know the teen very well and spend plenty of time talking to them, the teen is often a willing participant in the sexual encounter, seeing it as a blur of romance, acceptance or sexual awakening.
Often the teens have been victims of sexual or physical abuse, marital discord and health problems. Teens also tend to be prone to risk taking in both real life and virtual settings.
One teen was lured into an encounter when he identified with the predator’s fabricated struggle to find the best treatment for adult acne. In this case the teen was looking for advice on treating acne and he found it in this particular online predator.
This endeared the man to him and set the stage for a later sexual encounter. Thus it is possible that your teen starts out sharing a home recipe for back acne treatment and ends up in a scary situation!
In short- teens with low self esteem, body image, emotional and family problems that enjoy the thrill of taking risks are exactly they type of child that an online predator is hoping to find.
Three surveys were conducted by the researchers-two took the form of telephone interviews with 3000 internet users aged ten to seventeen (200o and 2005) and in the other 612 interviews were held with federal, state and local law enforcement officials in the United States (October 2001- July 2002).
The researchers emphasized the importance of the study: “To prevent these crimes, we need accurate information about their true dynamics," said Janis Wolak.
“The things that we hear and fear and the things that actually occur may not be the same. The newness of the environment makes it hard to see where the danger is."
Also important was the finding that social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace did not aggravate predator abuse. Instead teens who spent time talking online to strangers particularly about sexual topics were placed in the highest risk categories. "Most Internet-initiated sex crimes involve adult men who are open about their interest in sex," Wolak said. "The offenders use instant messages, e-mail and chat rooms to meet and develop intimate relationships with their victims. In most of the cases, the victims are aware that they are talking online with adults." "A majority of the offenders are charged with crimes such as statutory rape, that involve non-forcible sexual activity with adolescent victims who are too young to consent to sexual intercourse with adults," she said.
When children are discouraged from sharing personal details and being deceived online it does little to deter these problems the study revealed. Adults keeping constant tabs on internet activities did not prove to be the answer either.
Instead it is suggested by the researchers that parents should spend time teaching teens about the risks associated with certain types of behavior.
This means that parents should be having open and honest discussions about romantic or sexual relationships/encounters with an adult. The risks and patterns inherent in online relationships should be pointed out to the teen without making him/her feel judged. Unfortunately this is often easier said than done.
These families often have considerable communication difficulties already and the teens may not feel respectful or trusting towards their parent or caregiver. In this case other sources could be found that could help provide information to the teen.
The study also revealed that adults do not pretend to be teens very often (5% of crimes committed involved an adult impersonating a teen). Seventy-five percent of victims who met a predator did so on more than a single occasion.
Predators are not usually violent and do not generally force their victims into sexual behavior, instead they attempt to court them into making the decision for themselves. In the mind of the predator this relieves them of some of the responsbility for their crimes. He/she does not seem to consider the naivete or inexperience of the average teen.
It also appears that teens who have been involved in risky online activities reveal that they have received sexual offers over the internet. Risky activities might take the form of spending time talking to or e-mailing strangers, talking about sex with strangers or being antagonistic or nasty to people online.
Homosexual teen boys are at special risk say researchers. This is because they are unsure of their sexuality. One quarter of crimes committed involved boys who were gay or questioning their sexuality.
The best thing parents can do is maintain consistent open communication with their teens about their online activities. If a teen seems secretive about his/her online activities then investigate by searching their computer for any e-mails, chats, instant messages or other risky online activities.
Do not feel as though you are breaching your teen’s privacy. Young boys and girls do deserve some private time and activities, but in this case some well-timed “snooping” might save a life so if you feel at all uneasy don’t hesitate to try to uncover your teens internet habits.
The entire article may be found at: http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/amp632111.pdf