Heightened vulnerability and increased risk-taking among adolescent chat room users: results from a statewide school survey

J Adolesc Health. 2004 Aug;35(2):116-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2003.09.012.


Purpose: To profile adolescent Internet chat room users in terms of demographic characteristics, psychological and environmental factors, and behavioral risk factors.

Methods: The study sample was drawn from respondents to an anonymous statewide survey of 50,168 9th-grade public school students and included 40,376 students who reported Internet access at home and 19,511 who accessed chat rooms. Data were collected by the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS), a survey that has been administered triennially by the state's education department to public school students in grades 6, 9, and 12 since 1989. The MSS includes more than 117 questions (300 variables) addressing attitudinal, behavioral, and environmental issues. Data analysis consisted of comparing the odds of a particular characteristic or behavior for chat room users with that of nonusers. Analyses were run separately for boys and girls. The homogeneity of odd ratios was tested with the Breslow-Day statistic using SPSS for Windows.

Results: For boys and girls, use of Internet chat rooms was associated with psychological distress, a difficult living environment, and a higher likelihood of risky behaviors. Although most chat room users did not report serious problems, this group included a disproportionate number of troubled individuals.

Conclusions: Because chat room use serves as an indicator of heightened vulnerability and risk-taking, parents and others need to be aware of potential dangers posed by online contact between strangers and youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Minnesota
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking*