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Technology and Teen Dating Abuse

Technology and Teen Dating Abuse

BY RACHEL CHEESEMAN, FOUNDER OF STREET SMART SELF DEFENSE

Over the holiday season, I had a little extra time to spend with my teenage nieces and nephews.  I couldn’t help but notice how much time they consume on their smartphones.  These devices make communication and the discovery of new information extremely convenient. 

Unfortunately, as with all good things, there’s also a downside too.   Excessive smartphone use and frequency of social media are leading to an increased number of teens with depression.  And sadly, statistics also show a growing trend that links smart technology and dating violence.

The highly publicized case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy is a perfect example.  While the two were dating, Carter convinced Roy (via text messages) to follow through with his plan to kill himself in his truck with carbon monoxide.  Carter was found guilty of manslaughter as a result of her boyfriend’s death.  This case proved that smartphones have made it much easier for perpetrators to abuse and harass their victims.

A recent study from the Urban Institute Project uncovered the following statistics about technology and dating abuse:

  • 25% of dating teens indicated being victimized by their partners through technology. And of this number, half said they were also physically abused.
  • Only 9% of teens receiving digital abuse sought help. If they did, it was rarely from parents or teachers.
  • A third of those who experienced digital abuse from a dating partner also reported sexual coercion from their partner.

And yes, adults are guilty of it too!  What it comes down to is one person trying to have power and control over another.  Individuals who engage in this type of digital dominance have serious personal issues and insecurities of their own.  Sadly, more of these people are seeking validation through the mask of social media accounts; where there’s a fine line between fiction and reality.  

Teens need to become increasingly aware of online behavior patterns that appear controlling.  They need to be educated about the dangers and risks that exist by having a footprint in the digital world.   Such behaviors would include: 

  • Using social media to monitor a partner’s whereabouts or track friendships
  • Obsessive texting that includes threatening or degrading messages
  • Pressure for “sexting”
  • Demanding passwords or tampering with a partner’s social media account to get even

These are all unhealthy online habits that lead to fear, isolation and depression.

Yes, smartphones are great devices if the user has the freedom to use without fear of harassment and abuse.  While it’s up to the parent as to when a teen is ready to embrace the responsibility of having a smartphone, parents and educators need to target this narrative by emphasizing healthy relationships at a very young age.  Preteens should be educated about proper “social manners” as well as the risks and consequences of not exercising healthy online etiquette.  Older teens should be educated about appropriate ways to resolve conflict, and if they feel a situation is getting too “heated” or out-of-hand, they should have the confidence to turn to another adult for help and advice.  As long as teens are empowered with healthy online habits in advance, digital use will be much more educational and enjoyable among friends!

Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years.  She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. Rachel is also a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.