High School Students and Online Relationships: Behavioral Differences of Adolescents who meet Online Strangers Offline Compared to Adolescents who do not meet Offline

Monday, 18 November 2013: 2:05 PM

Elizabeth B. Dowdell, PhD, RN, FAAN
College of Nursing, Villanova University, Villanova, PA

Learning Objective 1: 1. Identify factors associated with high school students who meet online strangers’ offline compared to high school students who do not meet online strangers offline.

Learning Objective 2: 2. The learner will be able to identify 3 nursing interventions that can be used with an adolescent who is at-risk for unsafe Internet behavior.

Purpose: In today’s world more adolescents are using the Internet as an avenue for social communication, a source of information, and to develop online relationships.  To study the Internet patterns used in an adolescent population, a study was undertaken with adolescents in high school grades specifically asking about contact online and offline with person’s unknown (a stranger).  

Methods: This descriptive study used a survey to identify the usage and characteristics of online youth, solicitation of youth, and risk behaviors.  Five thousand, four hundred and twenty-eight high school students (9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grades) were recruited from public and parochial schools located in the Northeast. 

Results: Findings from this study indicate that adolescents are forming online relationships with strangers.  When students who meet the online stranger in-person are compared to adolescents who do not meet online strangers’ significant differences were found in other areas.   Specifically, students who met offline were more likely to report using social networking sites, to having viewed sexually explicit material online, report receiving sexually explicit pictures, to have forwarded a sexting message, to report fewer friends, feeling sad, lonely and anxious.  Of the high school students who met offline over half of the boys (59.6% vs. 40.4% of the girls) reported something sexual happened at their offline meeting while the girls (60.5% vs. 39.5% boys) reported that the person made them nervous or uncomfortable.

Implications: In the diverse and complex health care settings of the twenty-first century nurses are increasingly encountering risk situations defined by the technology.  The Internet revolution, while providing an unlimited information exchange and social contact, also provides opportunities for vulnerable adolescents to be exploited by individuals who are forming online relationships with them.  Policy and clinical recommendations include identifying, assessing, as well as intervening with at-risk adolescents in addition to nursing outreach.