Close relationships with people met online in a national U.S. sample of adolescents


The purpose of this research was to explore characteristics of youth who reported close relationships with people they met online. We used data from a national telephone survey of youth Internet users in the United States, aged 10 to 17 years old (N=1,560). One in ten adolescents (11%) reported a close relationship with a person met online. Results of a logistic regression indicated that the odds of forming close online relationships were about twice as high among youth with depressive symptoms, delinquent behavior, high Internet use, who sought out pornography online, had experienced unwanted online harassment, and had experienced an unwanted online sexual solicitation. Only 2% of youth reported such relationships with adults (18 and older) and many of these were with teens aged 18 or 19, less than 1% had an online relationship with someone over 21. Among youth with close online relationships, 3% sent or received sexual pictures and 34% met the person face-to-face. Of those who met the person, 4% of youth reported sexual contact. The great majority of youth were not afraid or uncomfortable during face-to-face meetings and it was common for parents to know of meetings. As youth continue to use online communication in diverse ways, it is important to better understand how youth are using the Internet to develop intimacy in their lives.

adolescence; Internet; high-risk youth; online relationships
Author biographies

Wendy A. Walsh

Author photo Wendy A. Walsh, PhD. is a Research Associate Professor of Sociology at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Her areas of research include studies on enhancing community response systems of child abuse and the criminal justice response to child abuse. She has published numerous papers on Children’s Advocacy Centers, prosecution of child abuse, and child well-being after child victimization.

Janis Wolak

Author photo Janis Wolak, J.D. is a Senior Researcher at the Crimes against Children Research Center of the University of New Hampshire. She is the author and co-author of numerous articles about child victimization, Internet-related sex crimes, and youth Internet use. She is a co-principal investigator and director for the First, Second, and Third Youth Internet Safety Surveys(YISS-1 and YISS-2), the National Juvenile Online Victimization Studies (N-JOV1, N-JOV2, N-JOV3) and the National Juvenile Prostitution Study.

Kimberly J. Mitchell

Author photo Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD, is a research associate professor of psychology at the Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire. She received her PhD in experimental psychology from the University of Rhode Island in 1998. Her current areas of research include youth Internet victimization and juvenile prostitution, with particular emphasis on the developmental and mental health impact of such experiences.

American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) (2011). Standard definitions: Final dispositions of case codes and outcome rates for surveys (7th ed.). Retrieved from:

Berson, I. R. (2003). Grooming cybervictims: The psychological effects of online exploitation for youth. Journal of School Violence, 2(1), 5-21.

Bonetti, L., Campbell, M. A., & Gilmore, L. (2010). The relationship of loneliness and social anxiety with children's and adolescent's online communication. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13, 279-285.

Briere, J. (1996). Trauma symptom checklist for children. Retrieved from:

Brick, J. M., Brick, P. D., Dipko, S., Presser, S., Tucker, C., & Yuan, Y. (2007). Cell phone survey feasibility in the US: Sampling and calling cell numbers versus landline numbers. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71, 23-39.

Davidson, J. & Gottschalk, P. (2011). Characteristics of the Internet for criminal child sexual abuse by online groomers. Criminal Justice Studies, 24, 23-36.

Eijinden, R., Meerkerk, G., Vermulst, A., Spijkerman, R., & Engles, R. (2008). Online communication, compulsive Internet use, and psychosocial well-being among adolescents: A longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology 44, 655-665.

Gross, E. (2009). Logging on, bouncing back: An experimental investigation of online communication following social exclusion. Developmental Psychology, 45, 1787- 1793.

Hu, S. S., Balluz, L., Battaglia, M. P., & Frankel, M. R. (2010). The impact of cell phones on public health surveillance. Bulletin World Health Organization, 88, 799.

Jones, L. M., Mitchell, K., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2013). Online harassment in context: Trends from three youth Internet safety surveys (2000, 2005, 2010). Psychology of Violence, 3, 53-69.

Jones, L. M., Mitchell, K. J., Walsh, W. A., & Finkelhor, D. (2013). A content analysis of youth internet safety education programs: Are effective prevention strategies being used? Unpublished manuscript.

Keeter, S., Kennedy, C., Dimock, M., Best, J., & Craighill, P. (2006). Gauging the impact of growing nonresponse on estimates from a national RDD telephone survey, Public Opinion Quarterly, 70, 759-779.

Lee, S. J. (2009). Online communication and adolescent social ties: Who benefits more from Internet use? Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 509-531.

Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2007). Social networking websites and teens: An overview. Retrieved from the Pew Internet & American Life Project website:

Leung, L. (2002). Loneliness, self-disclosure, and ICQ (I seek you) use. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 5, 241-251.

Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. (2010). Balancing opportunities and risks in teenagers’ use of the internet: The role of online skills and internet self-efficacy. New Media & Society, 12, 309-329.

Livingstone, S., & Ólafsson, K. (2011). Risky communication online. Report, EU Kids Online, London School of Economics & Political Science, London, UK. Retrieved from:

Mitchell. K. J., & Jones, L. (2011). Youth Internet Safety Study (YISS): Methodology Report. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center University of New Hampshire. Retrieved from:

Mitchell. K. J., Jones, L. M., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. (2012). Understanding the decline in unwanted online sexual solicitations: Findings from three Youth Internet Safety Surveys. Unpublished manuscript.

Noll, J. G., Shenk, C. E., Barnes, J. E., & Haralson, K. J. (2013). Association of maltreatment with high-risk internet behaviors and offline encounters. Pediatrics 131, e510-e517.

Peter, J., Valkenburg, P. M., & Schouten, A. P. (2005). Developing a model of adolescent friendship formation on the Internet. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8, 423-430.

Pretty, G., Andrews, L., & Collett, C. (1994). Exploring adolescents’ sense of community and its relationship to loneliness. Journal of Community Psychology, 22, 346-358.<346::AID-JCOP2290220407>3.0.CO;2-J

Reich, S. M., Subrahmanyam, K., & Espinoza, G. (2012). Friending, IMing, and hanging out face-to-face: Overlap in adolescents’ online and offline social networks. Developmental Psychology 48, 356-368.

Smahel, D., Helsper, E., Green, L., Kalmus, V., Blinka, L. & Ólafsson, K. (2012). Excessive internet use among European children. EU Kids Online, London School of Economics & Political Science, London, UK.

Subrahmanyam, K., & Greenfiled, P. (2008). Online communication and adolescent relationships. The Future of Children, 18, 119-146.

Valkenburg, P., & Peter, J. (2007). Preadolescents’ and adolescents’ online communication and their closeness to friends. Developmental Psychology, 43, 267-277.

Wells, M., & Mitchell, K. J. (2008). How do high-risk youth use the Internet? Characteristics and implications for prevention. Child Maltreatment, 13, 227-234.

Wolak, J. Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2002). Close online relationships in a national sample of adolescents. Adolescence, 37(147), 441-455.

Wolak, J. Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2003). Escaping or connecting? Characteristics of youth who form close online relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 26, 105-119.

Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K. J., & Ybarra, M. L. (2008). Online “predators” and their victims: Myths, realities, and implications for prevention and treatment. American Psychologist, 63, 111-128.

Ybarra, M. L., Alexander, C., & Mitchell, K. J. (2005). Depressive symptomatology, youth Internet use, and online interactions: A national survey. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36, 9-18.





HTML views