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Teen Girls' Health

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Your Life Online

What you should know before you send your next text or update your status online.

How Safe Are You Online? continued...

Teens can get sexual comments online, but usually it's the same rude kind of stuff (like catcalls) they'd hear at school or on the streets. "Most of those incidents are fairly mild," Wolak says.

When adults do try to seduce kids, it's usually in chat rooms or instant messages -- not social media sites. These predators don't hide in the shadows, either. They're usually very honest about what they're doing.

"Generally, they are quite open that they are adults looking for sexual relationships," Wolak says. "The kids who get drawn into these relationships tend to be kids who are really longing for romance and love."

Most teens are perfectly safe online. Still, there are a few things you should think about before you share any information on the Internet.

What Goes Online, Stays Online

One of the biggest problems teens have online is TMI (too much information). "At a young age, people are not very savvy about managing information. They don't really realize who their audiences are online," says Catalina Toma, PhD. She's assistant professor in the department of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Another problem is that they don't know the bounds of sharing and over-sharing. I think that happens face-to-face as well as online. But online, you can't take it back," she says.

Online you have no idea who's looking at your pictures or profile. And you don't know how long your pictures are going to live in cyberspace. Pictures can stay on social networking sites or other people's computers even after you delete them.

"You should realize that social network sites are going to be there for a long time," Toma says. "You may have a bikini photo or a drinking photo of yourself that seems OK when you're 18. But in a few years you're going to be looking for a job, and that's not the image that you want to present to an employer."

Pictures you send on your cell phone can also take on a life of their own.

Sexting

It might sound like fun to send sexy pics of yourself to your boyfriend on your cell phone. It's called "sexting," and 4% of cell-owning teens say they've done it. About 15% of teens also say they've gotten "sexts."

Remember -- once you hit send, that picture belongs to the person on the other end of the phone. They can do anything they want with it --including sending it to everyone they know. "They can spread it around like wildfire," says Toma. "And that's where the real harm can be done."

Don't think sexts are safe in the hands of someone you trust, either. In 2009, middle school student Hope Witsell sent a topless picture of herself to her boyfriend.

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