From catfishing to online scams, social media provides a seemingly endless opportunity for people to encounter something risky. With a new research study conducted by Florida Atlantic University, experts are shedding light on something not many do — digital dating abuse statistics among young people.
The study defines digital dating abuse as the process whee one “uses technology to repetitively harass a romantic partner with the intent to control, coerce, intimidate, annoy or threaten them.” Given the influx of teens on social media, it’s no surprise this can create an opportunity for digital dating abuse in teen relationships.
What Exactly Is Digital Dating Abuse?
The study broke down digital dating abuse into different forms when surveying teens. Digital dating abuse included instances where a significant other:
- Looked through the contents of their significant other’s device without permission
- Kept them from using their device
- Threatened them via text
- Posted something publicly online to make fun of, threaten or embarrass them
- Posted or shared a picture of them without permission
For those that confuse digital dating abuse with other forms of abuse, Michelle Drouin, Ph.D., weighs in to help differentiate it. She tells Parentology, “It’s in the similar vein of cyberbullying. It’s not just where someone says something mean to you online once, it’s continuous or repetitive. It’s the same with digital dating abuse — if it’s something continuous or repetitive, you need to take a more serious look at it.”
Digital Dating Abuse Statistics
The study showed that more than a quarter of teens (28.1%) reported that they have experienced at least one form of digital dating abuse. While many may think of teen girls as the typical victim, the study found that boys experience it more: 32.3% of boys reported abuse compared to 23.6% of girls.
Adding to those numbers, 35.9% of teens reporting that they had experienced at least one form of offline dating abuse. These included physical aggression, threats, name-calling, and being prevented from something they wanted to do. There was also significant overlap between digital and traditional/offline dating abuse, with 81% of students reporting suffering from both.
Teens who reported depressive symptoms were four times more likely to have experienced digital dating abuse. Certain behaviors were tied to reported numbers:
- Sexually active teens were 2.5 times more likely to experience digital dating abuse
- Those who sent a sext were almost five times as likely to suffer digital dating abuse
- Teens who were cyberbullied were more likely to have been a target of digital dating abuse
Breaking Down the Statistics
So, what can parents take away from this study? While heightened awareness of teens using social media may have some parents talking about bullying with their kids, they may be leaving out specific dangers and practices kids can encounter.
“They may be [worrying about threats] to the neglect of issues like digital dating abuse specifically and healthy romantic relationships in general,” Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., lead author of the study, tells Parentology. Instead, teens often turn to other relationships for guidance, from celebrities to the influencers they follow online. Those relationships have the opportunity to create a dysfunctional and unhealthy picture for teens to follow.
Hinduja advises parents to act early, saying, “If parents don’t counter those messages with clear guidance and discussion as to what makes up a healthy relationship (and bodes well for the future), and what makes up an unhealthy relationship (that bodes poorly for the future), youth will assume that what they are seeing out there in the world is just how romantic relationships are these days and will have lower standards for their own romantic relationships.”
Drouin also encourages parents to watch out for their teens suffering from coercion or harassment online because it can be a “marker for other types of physical abuse or violence happening in that relationship. It’s something very concerning that parents need to consider.”
Digital Dating Abuse Statistics — Sources
Dr. Sameer Hinduja, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and Professor of Criminology at Florida Atlantic University
Dr. Michelle Drouin, Psychologist and Professor at Purdue University
EurekAlert — Study