Why do Czech adolescents meet face-to-face with people from the internet?

In a new study, we examined situations where adolescents meet in person with someone they know only from the internet. We were interested in adolescents’ motives to attend such face-to-face meetings, how meetings attended for various reasons differ, and which meetings are more likely to be pleasant or unpleasant. The study, authored by Vojtěch Mýlek and Lenka Dědková from IRTIS together with Gustavo S. Mesch from the University of Haifa, was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

November 2022 Vojtěch Mýlek

Meeting new people from the internet is relatively common for adolescents across Europe (see Smahel et al., 2020). To examine such face-to-face meetings in more detail, we surveyed 2,500 Czech adolescents (ages 11-16) in June 2021. We made sure to proportionally include adolescents from all geographic regions, municipality sizes, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In this sample, 611 adolescents (24.4%) attended at least one face-to-face meeting in the past two years.

Focusing on their last face-to-face meeting with someone new, we asked the adolescents whether they wanted to:

  • have a chat with someone/meet someone new (friendly motive)
  • go on a date/find a boyfriend or a girlfriend (romantic motive)
  • buy/sell/exchange something or get tutoring (instrumental motive)

As shown in Figure 1, friendly meetings were the most common. However, there are considerable overlaps, which means that adolescents often went to the meeting with more than one specific motive.

Figure 1. Adolescents’ motives for attending face-to-face meetings with people from the internet

6.0% did not report any of the three motives. Percentages are based on 580 adolescents who responded to questions about motives. The diagram represents the data only approximately; percentages are precise.

Our results show face-to-face meetings attended with various motives are not the same. For instance, before friendly-only meetings, adolescents talked with the other person online for longer. This may mean they got to know the person better before meeting them “in real life”. After a friendly-only meeting, most adolescents met the person again more often than after other types of meetings. Maybe they managed to start a new friendship or decided to give at least one more try.

Instrumentally-oriented meetings (instrumental-only and friendly & instrumental) were more often attended by boys, and adolescents also mostly met with someone of the same gender. The instrumental-only meetings seem to be mostly one-off encounters with a specific goal (e.g., buying/selling something). However, after friendly & instrumental meetings, adolescents often met the person again. Therefore, these meetings may be situations where adolescents bond over a shared interest (e.g., exchanging collectibles).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most adolescents met with someone of the opposite gender when they attended a more romantic meeting (romantic-only, romantic & friendly, romantic & instrumental). It seems that some romantic encounters may be riskier than other meetings. In romantic-only and romantic & instrumental meetings, adolescents felt more afraid that the other person might harm them. At romantic & instrumental meetings, it was also more common that the other person was of different age or behaved worse than the adolescent expected. However, caution is needed here as the information about these meetings comes from just a handful of adolescents.

These results make clear that face-to-face meetings with people from the internet encompass a variety of experiences. It is necessary to be mindful of their differences in future research and when talking to parents or adolescents.

In the second part of our study, we focused on how pleasant or unpleasant face-to-face meetings are for adolescents. Like in previous research (e.g., Smahel, 2020), the meetings were pleasant (68.1%) or neutral (23.2%) experiences for the vast majority of adolescents (see Figure 2). But which meetings are enjoyable and which are unpleasant? According to our results, meetings attended with friendly motives were more likely to be pleasant and less likely to be unpleasant. The same was true for meetings, where adolescents talked to the other person online for longer. Perhaps, a longer online contact can help adolescents pick the right person to meet (or weed out the “wrong” ones). In any case, it seems advisable not to rush the offline encounter.

Figure 2. Proportions of pleasant and unpleasant face-to-face meetings

Percentages are based on 606 adolescents who responded to the question, “And how was the meeting for you?”

Notably, adolescents’ expectations about the other person seem to play an important role. A meeting was much more likely to be unpleasant when someone else came to the meeting (e.g., a boy instead of a girl). Moreover, when the other person’s looks or behavior did not meet the adolescent’s expectations, a pleasant meeting became less likely and an unpleasant one more likely. On the other hand, when their behavior exceeded the adolescent’s expectations, the chances of having a pleasant encounter rose. These results bring up an important point – not all unpleasant meetings are risky or harmful for adolescents. In some unpleasant meetings, the adolescent might have just been disappointed that the other person did not live up to their expectations.


​​Please cite the study as: 
Mýlek, V., Dedkova, L., & Mesch, G. S. (2022). Czech adolescents’ face-to-face meetings with people from the internet: The role of adolescents’ motives and expectations. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-022-01697-z

The data used in this study and all analytical scripts are freely accessible through OSF

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Research of face-to-face meetings between adolescents and people met online stands on untested assumptions that these meetings are uniform, and adolescents attend them to expand their social circle. It is also unclear what makes such meetings pleasant or unpleasant. This study examined meetings of 611 Czech adolescents (age 11-16, Mage = 14.04, SD = 1.67, 47.1% female). Face-to-face meetings attended with friendly, romantic, or instrumental motives differed from each other, emphasizing the need to investigate them separately. Pleasantness of meetings is closely related to disconfirmation of adolescents’ expectations. Unmet expectations related to unpleasant meetings, exceeded expectations to pleasant ones. While present findings uphold existing theories (e.g., social compensation), they also call for new theoretical perspectives for this common adolescents’ activity.

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