Many Teens Suffer ‘Digital Dating Abuse’

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 19, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Many U.S. teenagers may be using their smartphones to harass, humiliate or otherwise abuse their dating partners.

That’s according to a recent national survey of teens who’d been in a romantic relationship in the past year. Researchers found that 28% had been victims of “digital dating abuse” — surprisingly, with boys being targets more often than girls.

While teen dating abuse has long been a problem, digital technology has opened up new ways for it to happen, according to lead researcher Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University.

Teens might send threats by text; make embarrassing posts on social media; publicly share private, sometimes sexual, pictures; or secretly look through a partner’s device to monitor him or her.

The new findings, from a nationally representative survey, give a better sense of how common the problem is among U.S. teens, Hinduja said.

“This helps clarify what’s going on with youth who are in romantic relationships,” he said.

“Many teenagers,” Hinduja said, “really don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to building healthy relationships.”

Digital dating abuse is generally not an isolated issue: Many teens in the study (36%) said they’d been abused offline — physically, verbally or through coercive, controlling behavior. And it often went hand-in-hand with digital abuse.

That’s not surprising, according to Hinduja, since unhealthy relationships would usually manifest both face-to-face and online.

Elizabeth Englander, a researcher who was not involved in the study, agreed.

“It makes no sense to think that someone who is being abusive toward a dating partner would do so only in person,” said Englander, executive director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University.

“This is an important [study],” she said. “It demonstrates the close relationship between different psychological types of dating abuse.”

So when talking to kids about dating abuse, Englander said, it’s important to address both real-world and online behavior.

Another key finding runs counter to what many people might expect, according to Hinduja. Boys were significantly more likely than girls to say they’d been digitally abused. About 32% of boys reported it, compared to about 24% of girls.