Teens today often establish personal relationships and face-to-face interactions online and through social media. As technology has evolved, so have the ways we must address teen dating violence.
“Digital abuse,” or dating harassment through technology, is a red flag many parents should be aware of when talking to their teens about dating violence. Digital abuse may involve threatening or excessive text messaging, coercion to send photos, “sexting,” sending mass messages with ill intent and hacking into social media accounts. Digital abuse, like other forms of abuse, can happen to anyone, at any age and most likely occurs with other forms of abuse.
According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute, “Victims of digital abuse and harassment are two times as likely to be physically abused, 2 1/2 times as likely to be psychologically abused and five times as likely to be sexually coerced.”
Technology is now being used as a method of control and harassment. Teens should be aware that digital abuse is serious. Increased attention through social media and excessive messaging may appear flattering at first. However, this attention may be the beginning of a pattern of abuse. The offender may embarrass, degrade or threaten their partner without any face-to-face contact. What may seem like an innocent picture sent in private may be used as blackmail or a method of revenge that can have serious consequences.
For parents, protecting or monitoring teens’ online activities can be difficult. The best method of preventing digital abuse is awareness. Addressing social media etiquette and the repercussions of sharing personal pictures with others may help prevent your teen from becoming a digital abuse victim.
Additionally, parents should talk to their teens about harassment and the warning signs of unhealthy relationships. Developing an open, supportive relationship with your teen may provide the reassurance they need to come to you when they cannot handle a situation on their own.
If your teen comes to you looking for support, there are resources available. Futures without Violence, the Urban Institute and www.LoveisRespect.org are just a few online resources with information specific to teen dating violence.
Academic professionals and mental health providers embedded in the schools may also provide resources and guidance. In addition, the 86th Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy Program provides advocacy services for non-offending caregivers as well as family and individual counseling. Family Advocacy also offers prevention classes on healthy relationships and parenting classes for parents of children ranging in age from 4 to 18 years old.
For more information on Family Advocacy’s services or to register for prevention classes, call 06371-47-2370 or 479-2370.