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Commentary By Destiny Jackson: Teens On The Internet

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Commentator Destiny Jackson participates in WAMU's Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and Washington, D.C.'s Latin American Youth Center.

It's not unusual for teenage girls to receive messages on their MySpace or Facebook pages from boys or men they don't know. But, as Jackson notes, it's always better to be safe than sorry:

They say things like "Hey, you look good" or simply "What's good?"

I always play it safe and ignore these guys -- I don't know who they are or what their intent is. But one day last year, my best friend found a stranger's message waiting on her page, and she replied.

They started writing back and forth and she realized he had first written to her because she was cute. When he wrote messages like "Baby, you the one for me," she began to feel he truly cared for her. Pretty soon he wrote, "When are we going to see each other?"

I told my friend I was very suspicious -- how did she know this guy wasn't a grown man who planned to kidnap her? But she met him anyway, alone. Turned out, he was just another teenager from outside D.C.

Still, he worried me.

I worried that while my friend said their relationship was serious, she never introduced him to her parents or friends. I worried that no one knew him or even had a connection to him.

On dates, they would meet alone at the movie theater or at his house, in a part of Maryland we didn't know well. And I worried that this 15-year-old guy only wanted one thing from my 14-year-old friend: sex.

One day, she told me she was going to skip school to go to his house. I told her it was dangerous to sneak off without telling someone exactly where she would be. She didn't listen.

After first period music class, the school alerted my friend's parents that she hadn't shown up for class.

Then, about half an hour later, my friend called the school crying.

Her boyfriend had hurt her and tried to rape her, she said, and she needs to get away from him. Her mom drove to pick her up and the school called the police.

In the end, he didn't cause much physical harm -- just a few bruises she got while struggling to escape. Things could have been much worse. I could have lost my best friend that day.

For adults, Internet dating has become more and more normal and probably nothing to worry about. But teens may be putting themselves in danger when they seek romance online.

If you're dating someone you know only through the Internet, be honest with your parents or another adult you trust. Because as teens, our online communities may be growing every day, but the only space where there is reliable accountability is in our real-life community.

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