How Teens Are Becoming Victims Of Dating Abuse In The Digital World

by Lauren Hersh

Reese requires Rae to keep Snap Map on at all times so she can track Rae’s movements.

After an argument, Jade finds a way into Maz’s Finsta and posts a humiliating pic of Maz.

Eli threatens, “If you break up with me, I’m going to take your private videos and make them public.”

This is what it looks like when dating abuse meets the digital world— and teens across the country are falling victim.

Here’s the reality: teen dating abuse has been an epidemic for decades, with millions of victims each year. The numbers are staggering: 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. has been a victim of physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse from a partner. Today, the level of online “connectedness” among teens in 2019 provides abusers with new and innovative ways to exercise power and control.

Take Jess, for example.

Jess (name change) is a high school senior who spoke to me candidly, and with the promise of anonymity about her relationship with Jax. She explained that “things are mostly good. But, at times, Jax gets a little jealous and possessive.” When I probed, she divulged, “He watches where I am through Find My Friends. This one time when I turned it off, he Snapchatted me nonstop and when I didn’t respond, he posted a private pic of me on my Finsta with a caption SNEEK-E BITCH.”

The more I questioned other teens, the more I saw that Jess was not alone. Many high schoolers I spoke with were tracked on Snap Map, pressured to share passwords, or required to allow a significant other to look through their phone.

Others were humiliated on social media or coerced to send private, sexual images by a significant other. As a former special victims prosecutor who now works with teens and tweens, I can’t say I am surprised. Coercion and manipulation have long been tactics used to perpetrate intimate partner violence. But today, these tactics are exacerbated by online access.

Constant digital activity creates a dangerous expectation that a person should be accessible, available and “visible” at any given moment. Snaps, texts and emojis have replaced face-to-face conversation and intimacy, causing a severe absence of empathy. Private moments frequently blur into the public sphere, causing chaos, extreme embarrassment and at times, legal consequences.

It’s time to change this, and fast.

Public humiliation, reputation damage, and cyber stalking should not be ordinary hazards of dating in 2019. Instead, young people need to be given the tools to navigate healthy relationships, which must include candid conversations about healthy digital boundaries. These conversations need to happen in schools, in our communities and in our homes. We need to start talking early (yes, elementary school!) and this dialogue needs to occur often.

And in case you are wondering what you can do, here are a few suggestions:

– Talk to your teen, but more importantly LISTEN.

– Discuss the importance of boundaries: in the digital world and within a relationship.

– Help them understand that no one should be cyber-tracking them on Snap Map or Find My Friends or anywhere.

– Explain that when love is used to manipulate (“if you love me, you would…”), it is not love. Repeat this over and over.

Helping a young person navigate the social and emotional complexities of growing up in the Digital Age is nothing short of overwhelming. But empowering teens to set healthy boundaries and foster mutual respect in their real and wired worlds will help them build healthy relationship skills for life.