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Online abuse – It’s closer than you think

Teen with cell phoneI was recently visiting a local high school when I noticed something very disturbing. I stopped off in the women’s restroom to freshen up and wash my hands. That’s when a printed flyer taped to the mirror caught my eye.

It was from an organization offering teen girls help if they were experiencing dating violence. That wasn’t what shocked me, it was the amount of torn off tabs with the contact number to get help. Only three tabs remained attached on that flyer.

THREE!

As a mother of teenagers, the realization that teen dating violence occurs close to home hit me hard. I guess I was naive in my belief that “it doesn’t happen here”. Later that night, I was distressed enough to bring the topic up to my close friend. I was seeking solace, but our conversation quickly touched on a disturbing new trend in dating violence- online abuse.

Online Dating Abuse Defined

Online dating abuse occurs when one partner uses social media or technology to cause pain, humiliation, or control the other person in the relationship. Online dating abuse is very similar to cyberbullying, but the cruelty comes from someone the teen trusts. Even though the abuse isn’t physical, these behaviors can cause very real harm.

Often teens who are victims of this type of emotional abuse experience threats, stalking, cruel remarks, and a lack of privacy. This can lead victims to feeling trapped and isolated from their family and friends. Victims might be degraded on social media, have intimate photos splashed on their friends’ and family’s feeds, or experience stalking through emails and texts.

Six Ways For Parents To Help

Thankfully, our hands aren’t tied and we are able to offer some protection from online dating violence. While we can’t guarantee our teens won’t experience digital assaults, we can arm them with the necessary skills to handle the situation.

Below are 6 tips that I use with my teenagers and find extremely helpful:

1.    Begin an open conversation about online dating violence with your teens. Stress that love shouldn’t hurt and a partner should respect your digital autonomy. Listen, avoid judgment, and let your child know you will be there for them at all times.

2.    Tell them to never share passwords for their accounts and help them set their privacy settings.

3.    Have your teen turn off location tracking devices on social media apps. If your teen chooses to post their location or plans, help them understand how posting this information may put them at risk.  

4.    If a situation does develop, document the abuse and assess whether you need to seek help from the authorities.

5.    If necessary, change phone numbers and email addresses, block the aggressor from viewing social media pages and report the abuse to social media administrators.

6.    Ask your teen what they need to feel supported. Look into community support groups or counseling to help them overcome this period in their life.

Raising Awareness About Online Dating Violence

It is estimated that over 64 percent of girls and 56 percent of boys have experienced online dating abuse. It is our job as parents to ensure our children’s safety and provide the best environment for them to thrive. This need makes it essential that we take the appropriate measures to reverse this trend by giving teens the tools they need to be confident and safe online.

Please take a moment and pass this information on – you might empower a young person to have safe, healthy relationships both off- and online. 

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