Underaged & Digitally Engaged: Adolescent Use of Adult-Based Platforms

Author: Tahlia Hart

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 7 Nov 2026.

Hart, Tahlia, 2023 Underaged & Digitally Engaged: Adolescent Use of Adult-Based Platforms, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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Online Adult-Based Platforms (ABPs) (e.g., dating apps) appear to be growing in popularity. In the present study an ABP is an online platform that requires users to be a minimum of 18 years of age, involves setting up a user account/profile, and enables users to interact with other users. However, minors appear to be accessing and using these services despite age restrictions. Underage engagement may lead to a myriad of opportunities for youth transgressions and potential harms (e.g., physical, psychological, sexual). Minors’ overall experiences using ABPs are minimally researched, and it remains unknown whether adolescent development and the Internet and technology play a crucial role in reinforcing underage engagement.

This study addresses the literature gap by answering the primary research question: Why and how do adolescents use online ABPs? In answering this question, this study contributes to knowledge, firstly by developing a novel scripting framework (ABCDE Model) and secondly by applying the framework to understand Australian adolescent transgressive behaviour in online environments. The study also proposes policy responses (e.g., technological, educational, legal), based on the ABCDE Model, to reduce future underage ABP engagement.

Existing frameworks were considered by the present study and relied on to formulate the new scripting framework (ABCDE Model) (e.g., Crime Script Analysis (CSA) (Cornish, 1994), Sneaky Thrills (Katz, 1988), and Seductions of Cybercrime (Goldsmith & Wall, 2022)). The existing frameworks considered, but did not individually provide, a logical sequence of adolescent transgressive behaviour using the Internet and technology. Accordingly, the ABCDE Model was alternatively developed from online semi-structured interviews with young adults (18 to 21 years of age), all of whom resided in Australia and had previously used ABPs when they were underage. The ABCDE Model logically sequences underage ABP use through five steps: Awareness, Beginning, Conducting, Disengaging, and Evaluating. The study found adolescents gain knowledge of ABPs (e.g., peers) and are motivated to use ABPs (e.g., relationships) during the Awareness step. Adolescents obtain an ABP and curate their profile/account via sneaky tactics in the Beginning step. Adolescents select other users (e.g., swiping), approach those matches and connect in both online and offline environments when Conducting. Adolescents may choose to Disengage an ABP by stopping their use; however, these adolescents may later restart their ABP use. In the Evaluating step, participants justified their underage ABP use, reflected on whether they achieved their motivation, and explained how they applied their underage experiences to adult ABP use. The ABCDE Model found that at each stage of the process, the general features of ABPs, as well as the Internet and digital technologies, allure adolescents to engage in transgressive behaviours in online environments, which can be used to fulfil developmental needs (e.g., identity). This study developed socio- technical features (Ambit, Analogous, Avoidance), which are the technological and social features ABPs provide their users and which can motivate underage engagement. These socio-technical features expand on the ‘technical features’ in the Seductions of Cybercrime framework (Goldsmith & Wall, 2022) that explain how youth are seduced by the Internet.

Keywords: Youth Crime, Cybercrime, Deviance, Adolescent Development, Dating Apps

Subject: Justice and Society thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Andrew Goldsmith