Dating violence can be digital.
Parents should consider talking with their teenagers about abusive relationships, and a conversation about digital mistreatment would be a good place to start. In a recent survey, more than half of adolescent girls and boys had dated someone who tried to monitor or control them by texting so frequently that it made the recipient uncomfortable, expecting immediate responses, asking for their passwords, or tracking their location or social activity.
The same report also found that nearly half of teenagers had been in a relationship with a partner who used technology against them, either to spread rumors, post embarrassing or hurtful messages, or make threats. And roughly a third experienced sexual coercion via digital means: they were pressured to have sex, received unwanted sexual images or were urged to send them, or had their nude pictures sent to others without permission.
In talking with our teenagers about coercive relationships, we should acknowledge that âif someone wants to know what you are doing all the time, that can feel like a really close relationshipâ but that healthy romances are grounded in trust and support, not spying or intimidation. Further, we can tell our teenagers that we stand ready to help if they ever âfeel pushed around by a boyfriend or girlfriend, either online or in person.â
In my experience, adolescents are greatly relieved when we remind them to alert an adult if they are concerned about their own or a friendâs health and safety. Digital dating violence falls squarely into this category as, not surprisingly, it has been linked in some studies to physical and sexual victimization, especially against girls.
Relationships can become round-the-clock affairs.
Itâs hard to imagine that anything could up the intensity of a teenagerâs first love, but digital technology seems to have done the job. When adolescents in my practice talk about their happy romances, Iâm often amazed at how completely their lives are saturated by them.
Teenage couples awaken together by text or call, communicate â hopefully not while driving â on the way to school, connect in person during the day while still texting, FaceTime through their homework, then virtually snuggle online before falling asleep. On more than one occasion Iâve found myself listening to the details of a teenagerâs day thinking that my husband and I, except for when we traveled together before we had children, have never been as completely intertwined as many young couples are now.
Most adolescents keep up their friendships and activities even when enjoying healthy, albeit wall-to-wall, romances. Still, itâs important to appreciate what it means for a teenager when an omnipresent relationship ends. In addition to contending with heartbreak, the suddenly single teenager has to find a new way to begin and end each day and to fill a lot of the time in between. Lovelorn teenagers usually bounce back pretty quickly, but parents shouldnât underestimate the scale of the loss in the short term.
Technology adds some new twists to the age-old roller coaster of teenage romance. Our adolescents may know more than we do about the online world, but we know more about the romantic one. Even if their love lives donât look like the ones we remember, we still owe it to teenagers to find ways to offer our support and guidance.