A new study from Florida is a first of its kind to take a hard look at digital dating abuse as it relates to teens. The results were surprising.
Of the 2,218 middle and high school students who participated in the study, more than a quarter (28.1%) of those who had been romantically involved in the past year said they had also been subjected to digital dating abuse and trauma.
Boys reported having experienced more of this abuse than females, with 32.3 percent saying they were abuse victims, particularly in comparison to 23.6 percent of their female peers.
The study described digital dating abuse as a romantic partner doing either of the following:
Keeping them away from using their phones
Sending threats through texting
Posting content on the web to make fun of them publicly, and humiliating them
Post a photo without consent
Digital dating abuse is a widespread concern
Digital dating abuse often goes beyond what was discussed in the study.
It could involve unwelcome texting or making unwanted and harassing sexual remarks via texting or social media. It could also involve more severe abuses, such as cyberstalking or catfishing.
Sadly, digital dating abuse is becoming increasingly common among teens and young adults. The more youngsters move their lives to social media, the more exposed they are to these complexities.
What is called digital dating abuse or violence?
As genuine and relevant as digital dating abuse can be, the teen therapist John Mopper of Blueprint Mental Health is not convinced that the dynamics highlighted in the study should always be considered as such.
Mopper said he was astonished to see how widely ‘digital dating abuse’ was defined.
He pointed out that most teens probably posted a photo without the consent of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or might be called names in the spur of the moment.
As defined by the research, he wants to assume that most teens would check the box, ‘yes, this happened to me,’ and at the same time, if we asked them if they felt if it was abuse, they would most probably deny it.
That’s not to say that he wants to deny the truth of online dating abuse, just that he is questioning the legitimacy of this specific study.
In order to understand what digital dating abuse could mean, we actually need to remove the ‘digital’ and look at what defines violence within an interpersonal relationship. It can be described as a trend of actions used by one partner to retain control and power over the other partner.
He explained that a teen feeling envious, missing emotional maturity to withstand that jealousy properly, and occasionally glancing at her partner’s phone without consent, is not abuse.
It’s not nice to do that, and the person whose anonymity is being violated may not feel comfortable, but it’s not abuse. However, a teen frequently goes through their partner’s cell phone, attempts to monitor who their partner can speak to, and regularly asks who their partner is texting. is a form of control that is called abuse, according to Mopper.
He said the same can be implemented in a number of different situations.
A teenager getting angry and in the spur of the moment calling their partner a term or threatening to split up is not abuse.
But repeatedly sending derogatory remarks and insulting their partner by texting will be counted as abuse.
Again, if this type of behavior is reiterated or has the potential to be abused over time (after being told to stop) then it is abuse.
When asked how common this could be, he said that it’s going to happen among his clients, but not at the pace that the study suggests at all.
Why the risk to teen boys may be greater
One of the intriguing features of this study is that teen boys have been found to encounter more often than girls the type of abuse described in the study. But this information is not exactly new.
Past work has yielded similar findings for both forms of abuse.
Couture, a professional mental health counselor and trauma specialist for children and teens, commends the study for addressing what most of us already know in the field of mental health.
The boys are very susceptible to all forms of sexual and domestic abuse, including digital dating abuse.
Some parents have not properly shielded their boys because they have not understood that they are just as fragile as their daughters.
There are a number of reasons that this may be the situation, but Couture believes that much of it boils back to the fact that the gender-stereotyped information provided by the mental health, healthcare, human services, and crisis fields, and also the media, has parents choosing to believe that sexual and dating abuse is gender offenses rather than human crimes.
She said teens often believe these assumptions, which has the added effect of stopping them from having the support they may need, or even reporting abuse when it’s perpetrated against them.
What parents are supposed to know
Both Mopper and Couture suggest talking to teens and establishing clear channels of communication.
If your teen has any trouble with anyone, take it seriously. If he or she floats, acts emotionally contentious, seems like he or she wants to talk but doesn’t raise anything up, needs more compassion than usual, withdraws physically, or acts out at home, especially towards the siblings, these are all warning signs.
Additional signs that may be happening to your teen can include:
- Obsessive concern for their computer, interference with real-life activities
- Consistent moodiness or rage
- Higher or abrupt restlessness
- Hyperactivity and anxiety, particularly social anxiety
- Somatic signals
- Retreat from family and social activities
Even if guardians do not believe that their teen kids are victims of digital dating abuse, they should find a way to involve their children in discussion while doing side-by-side tasks, sharing a restaurant meal, or commuting together.
This applies to any important issue you might want to make sure your teen knows they can speak openly to you.
By being open and having these conversations from a young age, she said that your teen would have an easier time opening up to you when it qualifies.
Couture proposed addressing the topic of digital dating abuse and specifically asking whether they know someone who has witnessed it.
Note the language of the child’s body. Ask if he or she has ever encountered it or been pulled out of it.
If the teen doesn’t want to discuss the matter, Couture says the parents shouldn’t push it.
However, if you have reason to suspect that your teen kid is suffering or committing some kind of abuse, Couture said you should go to a nearby Mental Health Treatment Center instantly.
Tags: Signs of dating abuse, Types of dating abuse, Emotional abuse in relationships statistics