New research gives parents one more reason to do everything they can to protect their children from teenage dating abuse and violence. Reports just released in the journal Pediatrics show that teenagers who are in abusive relationships appear to be more likely to develop emotional and substance abuse issues when they are older. The study looked at more than 5,600 children between the ages of 12 and 18 years who had been in dating relationships, of which one third reported they had experienced teen dating violence – defined as emotional and/or physical abuse. Five years after their dating experiences, those who reported being in abusive relationships were more likely to be involved in unhealthy behaviors.
- Girls were more likely to binge drink, suffer from depression, smoke, and consider suicide.
- Boys were more likely to be antisocial, use marijuana, and consider suicide.
- Both males and females who were involved in physically abusive teenage relationships were 2-3 times as likely to be involved in violent relationships during their period of young adulthood, 18-25 years.
Recognizing and Redefining Dating Violence
These new reports are disturbing. In fact, the results of the consequences of teenage dating abuse years later are frightening, but the fact that one third of the teens surveyed were in a violent relationship is devastating. And if we shudder to think that one-third of our teenagers are suffering in violent dating relationships, we have to be equally alarmed that this means that roughly one-third of our teenagers are perpetrators of teenage dating abuse.
The teens who were involved in the study were asked if they had ever been called names, insulted, treated disrespectfully, threatened with violence, pushed, shoved, or had something thrown at them during their relationships. Because this study is an in-depth look at the culminating consequences and trends of teens in abusive dating relationships, it possibly doesn’t capture the true and present dangers our teens are facing today. As the study began with teens who were in relationships in 1996 and has followed them into adulthood, it doesn’t cover the new and ever-present component of technology in abusive relationships – and teenagers are nothing if not technology-driven.
It is becoming more and more evident that the use of technology in teenage dating violence is more frequent. Already in 2007 more than 25% of teenagers reported that someone they were dating used a cell phone to harass, intimidate, or put them down. Almost 20% of teenagers also reported that they were fearful of not responding to a text, email, or instant message because of what their partner might do in reaction, and 10% of teens had been threatened through technology (chat sites, messages, etc.) with violence by the person they were dating.
Technology can have wonderful and enriching benefits for our children, but it also makes them more susceptible to things such as teenage dating abuse.
- Teens are using social media sites to keep tabs on their boyfriends/girlfriends – and seeking control is one of the biggest indicators of a potentially abusive relationship.
- Teens are using cell phones to have constant contact with their boyfriends/girlfriends, another issue of control.
- Cyberbullying is not limited to enemies in the 8th grade. Boyfriends and girlfriends can be the victims of their partners’ bullying tactics online.
- Sexting (sending sexually explicit messages) and taking sexually explicit videos can lead to manipulation and threats to post these things online.
If you still aren’t convinced that teenagers are in more danger of dating abuse with the advent of technology, consider publications put forth by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. In a sobering definition, teenage dating violence is described in 4 ways:
Dating Violence is the use of harassing, controlling, and/or abusive behavior to maintain power and control over a partner in a romantic relationship. Anyone can be a victim of dating violence, regardless of age, race, or gender. Types of violence may include:
- Physical. A dating partner is being physically hurt, may include hit, kicked, punched, shoved, or otherwise physically injured.
- Emotional/Verbal. A dating partner is exposed to emotional attacks including jealousy, insults, isolation, harassment, or threats of harm to themselves or loved ones.
- Sexual. A dating partner is coerced or forced to engage in sexual activity when they do not want or cannot give consent including kissing or touching.
- Technological. Emotional/verbal or sexual abuse may involve technology like cell phones and the internet. It can also be called sexting or cyberbullying.
What do I need to do?
As parents we first need to be aware that teenage dating abuse exists, and that technology can make it even easier for our kids to become the perpetrators and victims of these behaviors. We need to redefine dating violence to include technology as one of the most prevalent ways through which our children are being abused. We need to have clear and continuing conversations with our children about using technology respectfully and safely. When we can recognize the ways in which even tweens are suffering from dating abuse, then we can take steps to communicate with and lead our kids – and hopefully prevent them from becoming a statistic.
[I orginally posted the majority of this piece at BetterParenting.com, but after hearing a friend’s tale of her daughter’s dating troubles, I thought it was worth a re-post.]