New technologies can be a wonderful thing, but they can also provide new avenues for abusive behavior. Teenagers may be especially vulnerable to digital abuse because they are attracted to and often rely on these new technologies to communicate. Using texts or social media to threaten, demean or stalk are all forms of digital abuse. If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship, remember abuse is not OK, online or off.
Understanding digital dating abuse
Using social media or texting as a means of abuse is a growing problem among teenagers. Here are some of the most common forms of digital dating abuse:
- sending threatening or derogatory emails or texts
- posting harassing or insulting statements on social networking sites
- excessive texting to keep tabs on a dating partner
- sending explicit pictures or video by email or text message, often called "sexting"
- using another person's password to log into their cell phone or social media accounts
- using tracking applications on social networking sites to stalk someone
Teenagers may think this type of abuse is a normal part of the relationship. But digital abuse, like other forms of abuse, is a sign of an unhealthy relationship and may lead to physical violence if the relationship continues along the same path.
What you can do to protect yourself
If you or someone you know is in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, there are things you can do to help protect yourself. They include the following:
- Understand that you don't deserve to be mistreated, online or in person.
- Do not text or post any pictures that make you feel uncomfortable. Try to think beyond the moment. Once you have sent a picture, you cannot get it back.
- Keep your passwords private. Don't give them out to friends, including your boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Take a look at your privacy settings on social networking sites. Be sure you understand how they work and change them if necessary to protect your privacy.
- Don't respond to constant text messages. It's OK to turn off your phone when you're with family and friends.
- Disconnect the tracking on your mobile device. Avoid "checking in" on social media sites, and ask your friends not to "tag" or track you with their mobile devices.
- If necessary, deactivate your Facebook account when you log off. This will help keep your information private when you are not online. Your account is automatically reactivated when you log on again.
How parents can help
Parents play a key role in helping their teenagers learn to build healthy relationships. You can begin by teaching your teenager that all communication, including digital communication, should be respectful. The following tips may help:
- Keep up-to-date on the technology your child uses. Be sure you have access to their cell phone and Internet accounts.
- Check their Internet histories.
- Review their text messages. Let them know you will be checking.
- Teach your teenager to use social networking sites responsibly.
- Talk with your teenager about the importance of mutual respect in a relationship.
- Teach your teenager that abusive behavior is never acceptable.
- Talk with your child about the importance of trust and relationship boundaries. Let your teen know their privacy is important, and they should be concerned about anyone who wants to share passwords for phone or email accounts.
- Model good relationships. Be respectful in your relationships at home and show your teenager that communicating in a positive way helps build trust and respect.