As teenagers navigate the challenging terrain of adolescence, marked by the development of social skills and empathy, the search for their identity, the learning of how to build friendships with peers, and the early steps toward preparing for future careers, some may also begin contemplating the world of dating. Dating, as a teenager, carries significant responsibilities.
For teenagers, dating can be a fresh and exhilarating experience, providing valuable insights into self-discovery and laying the groundwork for future relationships. In today's digital age, many young people are turning to technology to connect with others and establish relationships through online platforms. However, these digital interactions come with both positive and negative aspects. When wielded responsibly, technology serves as a powerful tool, offering a range of constructive opportunities for teens.
It is noteworthy that February is recognized as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, underscoring the importance of addressing a substantial concern within adolescent relationships.
Regrettably, for many teenagers, the dating experience can also expose them to the darker aspects of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, including the increasingly prevalent issue of technology-related abuse. Abusive partners can misuse technology as a tactic to maintain power and control through the use of social media, location tracking, texting, and other tools. In a 2013 study, "nearly half of all young people ages 14-24 reported being electronically harassed in some form, and 40% of teens reported incidences of digital dating abuse."  These forms of abuse can yield immediate and lasting consequences on their physical and mental well-being, impeding the development of healthy and nurturing relationships.
Parents, caring adults, and community members play a crucial role in the lives of young people because they are in position to recognize the signs of teen dating violence and technology misuse.
1. Listen and Validate: Create a safe and non-judgmental space for the teen to talk about their experiences. Listen actively, validate their feelings, and let them know that you believe and support them.
2. Safety First: Ensure their immediate safety. If they are in immediate danger, contact the authorities or a local domestic violence hotline.
3. Encourage Professional Help: Suggest seeking help from professionals who specialize in teen dating violence, such as counselors, therapists, or support groups. These experts can offer guidance and coping strategies.
4. Educate Them: Share information about teen dating violence, its signs, and its impact. Awareness can empower teens to recognize abusive behaviors.
5. Promote Healthy Relationships: Discuss what healthy relationships look like, focusing on communication, mutual respect, and consent. Encourage them to seek these qualities in future relationships.
6. Maintain Open Communication: Let them know that you're there to support them. Keep the lines of communication open so they feel comfortable talking to you.
7. Be Patient: Healing takes time, and recovery is a journey. Be patient and understanding as they navigate their experiences.
Teen dating violence is a serious issue, and providing support to affected teens is essential. Encourage them to seek professional help and be a source of understanding, compassion, and guidance as they work through their experiences.
Supporting teens impacted by technology misuse:
2. Ask basic questions to help identify the risk of the technology.
- What is happening?
- Where/when is it happening? (a specific time, location, platform)
- What does the person seem to know (what is the context)?
- What does the teen want to see happen? Sometimes it’s escalation of abuse, sometimes it’s reputation management (help them explore options that could keep them safe)
- How have they been keeping themselves safe?
- Is there anyone else aware that this is happening?
- What would they like to happen and how can you help? (It’s important not to assume what they want.)
Although technology can be misused as a tactic in teen dating abuse, technology can also be used strategically. Empowering teens to take control over their tech use will better help them understand how it can be used as a tool to support them, and they can create safe spaces free from abuse. Teens often have a lot more insight and skills to navigate technology, online spaces, and abusive people, than they are given credit for. Let them inform you on what they believe they need.
To learn more about technology safety, please visit our website techsafety.org.