One in 10 teens reported being physically hurt by a romantic partner in the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, about 10% reported being forced into unwanted physical encounters such as touching and kissing by someone they were dating.

Through the Dating Matters® initiative, the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention seeks to raise public understanding of these troubling statistics during National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in February.

In addition to teen dating violence that happens in person, online harassment and digital abuse is an increasing concern as teens spend more time online. The prevalence of social networks, texting and instant messaging gives abusers the chance to harass, insult, threaten or control others.

Teens Use Technology to Build Relationships

Adolescents turn to digital media to meet, flirt and break up with romantic partners; social media helps teens feel more connected to their boyfriends and girlfriends, according to the Pew Research Center. How do teens use technology in their relationships? The Pew Research Center reported:

  • 92% text their romantic partners
  • 87% talk on the phone
  • 70% spend time together posting on social media
  • 69% use instant messaging
  • 55% video chat
  • 37% use email
  • 31% talk with their partner while playing video games together

Online Harassment and Digital Abuse Affects One-Quarter of Teens

An Urban Institute study found that 26% of youngsters in relationships had experienced some form of digital abuse in the prior year, while 12% acknowledged perpetrating such harassment. The abuse often carried over into the relationship: 84% of victims of digital abuse reported experiencing psychological dating abuse and 52% reported physical dating abuse.

Love is Respect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, lists the following indicators of digital abuse:

  • Pressure to send explicit photos or videos
  • Threatening, insulting and negative messages, whether posted online or sent privately
  • Constant checking of someone’s location or activities via social networking sites
  • Lack of privacy, including looking through messages and photos, and using or stealing passwords
  • Controlling behavior, such as limiting online friends

A Pew Research Center study reported that 16% of teens were required by their partner to drop former boyfriends or girlfriends from their friend lists on social media sites. And 11% reported a current or former partner had used the Internet or a cell phone to threaten violence. Teens also reported name-calling or put-downs (22%), or having rumors spread about them online (15%).

A report by MTV and the Associated Press found that 61% of teens who have sent explicit photos or videos of themselves were pressured to do so at least once. Such images have been passed along to others, sometimes without the original sender’s knowledge; 17% of recipients reported they have forwarded images, with most sending them to more than one person.

7 Ways to Address Teen Dating Violence Online

Love is Respect offers the following tips to help teens stay safe online:

  1. Post with care – Post only what you want the entire world to see.
  2. Protect personal information – Never allow your address, phone number, date of birth or name of your school to be used by social media sites.
  3. Set boundaries – Make sure you know what friends and family are posting about you. Say “no” to negative posts, the sharing of your information or the tagging of you in photos.
  4. Keep passwords private – Do not share your passwords with anyone other than your parents.
  5. Don’t respond – If you are on the receiving end of a negative, inappropriate or abusive comment, do not respond.
  6. Keep track – Keep a record of all online harassment you experience in case you need to contact the police.
  7. Keep safe – If you leave an abusive relationship, block your ex on social media sites, stop checking in with location-based apps and adjust your privacy settings.

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