Schools, Parents Need to Address Online Teen Dating Abuse

There have been a lot of reports in the media recently about teens and children being bullied at school and through social media. Dating violence among teens has been studied for years, but the relationship to online harassment is a new issue.

Now, an Urban Institute report, “Teen Dating Abuse and Harassment in the Digital World: Implications for Prevention and Intervention,” provides more data on the link between dating violence and online harassment.

Of the 5,647 middle and high school students recently surveyed, 25 percent of teens in a romantic relationship report that they felt harassed or abused by their partner through social media, email or text. Only 9 percent reported this to an adult. According to the study, online harassment is just an additional way abusers attempt to control and inflict harm on their victims.

The most common form of online abuse reported was tampering with a partner’s networking account without permission. More than 7 percent of abused teens reported that they were sent messages to engage in sexual acts that they did not want, and 6.8 percent were pressured to send sexual or naked pictures to their abuser.

Parents and school officials should take note that any signs of social media harassment probably points to more serious dating abuse for teens in a romantic relationship. Most of the teens reporting social media and texting abuse say they are also victims of other forms of abuse, including sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.

Of course, the answer isn’t shutting down social media sites or stopping texting among teenagers. Parents and school personnel need to talk to teens about dating violence and the different forms abuse can take—including psychological pressure and bullying. School administrators and personnel must be trained to recognize signs of abuse and dating violence. Because many teens do not reach out to parents and other adults for help, more needs to be done to train peers to help identify the problem among their friends and to know where help is available. Social media can also be used to help educate teens about the problem.

With 90 percent of the incidents unreported to adults, we are only dealing with the tip of the iceberg. It is time to build the trust teens need so they feel comfortable reaching out to adults for help in ending the harassment and abuse done remotely through social media outlets.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

3 Comments

  1. Ms. Harlan,

    Thank you for writing on this vital topic. Too many of our youth are committing suicide due to bullying. Too many of our youth aren’t reporting it when they are being harassed because it’s not cool to narc on their friends.

    Another point that you made is vital! Youth need to stop standing by and taking part in, or allowing their peers to be bullied, assaulted, or harassed. They need to be trained to handle the situation in a safe and proper way. They also need some sensitivity training because at that age, they really are only focused on themselves. 

    Having said that, one important point that I think needs addressing here is that parents need to supervise, get involved in their children’s lives, and oversee their cell phones, Face books, Twitters, and any other forms of communications kids are using today. I work with parents who have lost their children to gangs, suicide due to bullying, or drug/alcohol abuse, etc.

    I can’t help but feel frustrated with all the things these parents could have done to prevent or intervene in the situation before things got so bad. For parents who have hard to handle kids, the County DA’s Office has a program called The Parent Project. It is a fantastic tool to assist their kids.

    There are so many low cost/no cost programs out there, but few people know about them, or are not using them. You can write about, and change laws to cover all the problems in the world to protect youth, but unless and until parents step up and get involved, nothing will ever change.

  2. Thank you for posting your comments about parents needing to be involved in their children’s online social media.  It is important for parents to keep up on the new technology kids are using and talk to them about what is, and is not, appropriate language and content for messages either via texting or video. 

    The other side is that parents need to be role-models for how to relate to each other so that children understand that violence or physical or mental abuse is never ok in a relationship.

    • Sparky said, “The other side is that parents need to be role-models for how to relate to each other so that children understand that violence or physical or mental abuse is never ok in a relationship.”

      I couldn’t agree with you more! Our youth follow our lead on everything!