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New Report Sheds Light On Teen Dating and Digital Abuse

By guest blogger Mike Bock

One in four teens in a romantic relationship reported that their partners had harassed or abused them during the previous year using social media, text messages, or other forms of digital communication, a new report from the Urban Institute concludes.

But 84 percent of the teens who reported experiencing abuse in digital forums said they were also psychologically or physically abuse, suggesting cyberbullying in relationships could be a natural extension of other types of mistreatment, said Janine Zweig, one of the chief researchers of the report.

"This type of abuse seems to be another tool in the toolbox of someone who is inclined to abuse or harass their partner," she said in an interview.

Zweig also said that digital abuse through email, text messages, and social media can sometimes be a red flag that indicates in-person abuse is occurring, and that teens' increased access to digital communications means that abuse can easily happen away from school property.

The Washington, D.C.-based research organization recently published the complete results of the report, called "Digital Abuse: Teen Dating Harassment through Technology", in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. More than 5,600 middle-school and high-school students participated in the survey.

The report found that tampering with a partner's social media account is the most prevalent form of digital abuse, with 8.7 percent of teens reporting having been subjected to it. Sending threatening messages, posting embarrassing photos, and pressure to engage in sexting also made the list.

In addition, girls report being victims of digital abuse while in a relationship more frequently than boys do, with 29 percent of female respondents and 23 percent of males reporting abuse.

While only 17 percent of the teens who report digital harassment say they experienced it on school grounds, Zweig said that schools can play a bigger role in monitoring and preventing that abuse from playing out.

Since many schools and districts are taking steps to prevent cyberbullying, those measures can easily be extended to online dating abuse, she said. And since abused teens so rarely seek help—only 9 percent of them do, the report said—increased safety and prevention measures can help create a context by which teens feel more comfortable reporting abuse, said Zweig.

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