Teen Dating Abuse via Mobiles, Internet Hits Girls Harder
A new study reveals two sad, but not shocking, things about your teen’s world: First, teens expect to experience some digital forms of dating abuse; second, girls may be suffering more severe emotional consequences than boys.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and University of California-Santa Barbara, examined the impact of gender on US high schoolers who experience abusive teenage relationships via digital devices — in other words, the use of cell phones or Internet to harass, control, pressure or threaten a dating partner. While those kids are half a world away, it’s likely indicative of teen dating experiences here, where social norms make teen dating even more clandestine and virtual, mobile phones are proliferating, and girls don’t even have to date to experience digital harassment.
Overall, in the US, teens experience this digital dating abuse at similar rates, but girls reported that they were more upset by these behaviors and reported more negative emotional responses.
“Although digital dating abuse is potentially harmful for all youth, gender matters,” said Lauren Reed, the study’s lead author and an assistant project scientist at University of California-Santa Barbara.
The study involved 703 Midwest high school students who reported the frequency of digital dating abuse between December 2013 and March 2014, if they were upset by the “most recent” incidents, and how they responded.
The teens reported sending and receiving at least 51 SMSs per day, and spending an average of 22 hours per week using social media. Most participants reported that they text/texted their current or most recent dating partner frequently.
The survey asked teens to indicate the frequency of experiencing abusive behaviors from a dating partner via a digital device, including “pressured me to sext,” sent a threatening message, looked at private information to check up on the teen without permission, and monitored whereabouts and activities.
Girls indicated more frequent sexual coercion victimization via digital devices, and girls and boys reported equal rates of digital monitoring and control, and digital direct aggression. When confronted with direct aggression, such as threats and rumor spreading, girls responded by blocking communication with their partner. Boys responded in similar fashion when they experienced digital monitoring and control behaviors, the study showed.
Boys often treat girls as sexual objects, which contributes to the higher rates of digital sexual coercion, as boys may feel entitled to have sexual power over girls, said study co-author Richard Tolman, U-M professor of social work. Girls, on the other hand, are expected to prioritize relationships, which can lead to more jealousy and possessiveness, he said. Thus, they may be more likely to monitor boys’ activities.
The study’s authors offered no solution to curbing teen dating abuse via digital devices, but one first step comes to mind in the Indian context: sex education that teaches the concepts of respect and consent for partners. Abusive teenage relationships — digital or physical — might hold less appeal when teens appreciate their dating partners — boys or girls — as autonomous individuals with the right to control their bodies and make their own decisions.
The study’s other author was L. Monique Ward, a University of Michigan professor of psychology. The findings appear in the Journal of Adolescence.