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.