Discussing Digital Abuse With Teens
When Sojourner enters local classrooms to provide violence prevention education, we recognize the reality of modern dating violence – it is also taking place online. Teens have spent their entire lives in a virtual world, and it’s become a primary source of communication for all of us. 1 in 4 teens report being harassed through technology, but only 9 percent of those teens seek help. While school-based prevention education is impactful, conversations about safety are important at home and in the community as well.
Per the National Domestic Violence Hotline, digital abuse is “the use of technology and the Internet to bully, harass, stalk, intimidate, or control a partner.” It can be hard to identify, but here are some examples of digital abuse:
Disrespecting boundaries: sharing passwords, nonconsensual sexting, constant texting, stalking via social media, creating fake profiles, looking through someone’s phone/device
Threats: sending direct threats, making an intimidating or threatening post
Verbal Abuse: degrading messages or public posts, tagging someone in hurtful photos
Isolation: limiting who someone can/can’t be friends with, regulating someone’s messages and posts
Discussing digital abuse with teens in your life could give them the tools needed to identify and respond to abusive behavior. Here are things to keep in mind as you approach these conversations:
Teach Internet Safety
The first step to preventing digital abuse is educating teens about internet safety. General internet safety suggestions include:
Keeping online profiles private and only accepting friend or follower requests of people they trust.
If they want to share a check-in, wait until after leaving that location to post it.
Document anything that may be abusive, and keep it in a location the abuser can’t access.
Discuss Boundary Setting
Have discussions with teens in your life about what types of digital boundaries they want to set with others. Reiterate that they are entitled to digital space and do not have to be online and available 24/7. They are entitled to a safe online experience.
Share Your Concerns
Ask direct questions about their online experiences if you suspect abuse. Being straightforward is the best way to show you care and want to help. Many teens feel uncomfortable speaking to their parents about their relationships. In that case, remind them of other trusted adults in their life they can speak to. Resources are also available to teens, such as LoveIsRespect or Stomp Out Bullying. These resources are virtual and confidential.
Talking about dating violence with teens can be difficult, and Sojourner is here to help. If you’d like a Sojourner Community Educator to speak to your local school, faith community, or community group, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 952-351-4062.