When Dating Crosses the Line from Attentive to Controlling

digital abuse signs

Today, teen dating spans the real world and the digital world. Teens may meet first in class or at a game then get to know one another through texting, following each other and sharing photos and posts online. Before mobile, teens had to sit by the phone waiting for their friend to call. Now, they can always be connected via texting and social networks. Unfortunately, teens may find themselves in a relationship where their partner uses this constant connection to control and abuse them.

MTV’s aThinLine Campaign has conducted a series of surveys exploring the pervasiveness of digital abuse among teens and young adults. When athinline asked teens about digital abuse, they found in almost all categories digital abuse is on the decline except for within a dating relationship. This was the only category that did not show improvement from 2011 to 2013. Nearly 40% of teens reported experiencing some type of digital dating abuse including:

  • Around 20% reported that their partner has checked up with them multiple times per day online or via mobile, and that their significant other had read their text messages without their permission.
  • Nearly 10% said their significant other has called them names, put them down, or said mean things to them on the Internet or on their cell phone or demanded to know the passwords to their email and Internet accounts.
  • Nearly 20% of young people say they felt pressured by their partner to respond to their phone calls, emails, texts, or instant messages.

This online dating abuse can take its toll on teens. A study by Michigan State University found girls, who had experienced non-physical abuse, were just as likely to experience the same negative outcomes as those who had experienced physical abuse. Both types of abuse lead to an increase in smoking, risk of depression, eating disorders and engaging in risky sexual behavior.

When a teen’s phone is constantly dinging, parents should check in. Online abuse is often harder to spot than physical abuse. Teens do text a lot but the important part is how they feel about these texts and messages. Parents should ask how often teens text or message their partner and generally what they are talking about. By listening to them, hopefully a parent can begin to see if this constant contact feels stressful and ascertain what happens if they do not respond right away to a text.

Healthy relationships are positive and safe both online and off. How they speak to one another should be respectful whether it is in the hallway or on Twitter. Relationships are built on mutual trust. Even within a relationship they are still individuals and deserve their privacy and independence. Teens should establish digital boundaries in their relationship. Friends should not demand passwords, require constant contact or insist on access to their phone. If needed, they should be able to take a break and turn off their phone.

When talking about dating, parents should talk about digital boundaries and reassure them that digital abuse is never their fault. Online abuses could be signs of a larger problem. If a teen is not feeling safe in their relationship, they need to seek help either by talking to you or another trusted adult or calling a helpline. Fortunately, many fantastic organizations are working to shed more light on this issue.

For more information on Dating, Digital Abuse and Teens, check out these great resources.

Teens may also want to check out two apps – Love is not Abuse on iTunes and Circle of 6 on GooglePlay. Both apps are designed to educate teens about dating abuse, connect them with resources and allow them to immediately reach out for help if needed.

 

 

 

 

yik yak feature

Ask KidsPrivacy: Yik Yak in High Schools

yik yak feature Yik Yak is the #3 app on iTunes top free apps. On Yik Yak, people can anonymously share their thoughts, observations and comments. Ideally, Yik Yak is the digital equivalent of a message board in a college coffee shop. When the app trickled in to high schools, teens did not use it this way. Instead, students posted hateful comments about fellow classmates and teachers. Recently, I received a question about Yik Yak and how schools, parents and teens can work together to take control of it.

 


Q: What about YikYak, the anonymous service similar to twitter? Now that it’s in our community, how are schools and parents partnering to keep our kids safe?

yik yak issaquahA:  The appeal of Yik Yak is complete anonymity to say anything you want. Yik Yak does not even have usernames. I have more information about Yik Yak in my Parent’s Guide to Yik Yak, but here is a quick overview. Yik Yak does resemble a local twitter feed. Teens can share “Yaks” with other users who are within 1.5 miles of them. Yaks are short messages limited to 200 characters. Once posted, other users can reply to it or promote it within Yik Yak by voting it up or down. Upvoting is essentially a like and downvoting a dislike. They can also share Yaks on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

When Yik Yak first appeared, it gained notoriety for teens using it to post bomb threats and slam classmates. Police investigated these threats and schools rushed in to ban the app. In the face of this bad publicity, Yik Yak stepped in with its own solution. They chose to place geofences around all the middle schools and high schools in the US. A geofence shuts off all access to the app within 1.5 miles of the school.

yik yak high schoolYik Yak has placed geofences around 85% of all high schools and middle schools in the US. If your school does not have one, school administrators can contact Yik Yak and they will create one. Shutting off the app during school hours does reduce the reach of the app. Teens can still post after school but now it is seen by people 1.5 miles from their house. It is the difference between shouting in the school hallways vs. shouting on the street. Gossip can still spread but not as quickly or easily. Parents can also attempt to stop teens downloading this app at home by changing the restrictions on iTunes or GooglePlay.

Banning alone is not the solution. School, parents and students need to work together to change the culture around these anonymous apps. Teens need to realize that anonymity is not a license to say anything they want without repercussions. They are still responsible for their words. On Yik Yak, they are not as anonymous as they may think. When a student posted a bomb threat on this app, the police were able to find him and arrest him. All of our phones carry a unique device ID that can be traced. No one is completely anonymous online.

Teens have a role to play in governing the use of this app. Sometimes, kids are afraid to stick up for someone online because of the fear of reprisals. By speaking up, they can become the target of the abuse as well as unintentionally feed the internet fire. On Yik Yak, teens can moderate this feed without fear. They can downvote the type of content they don’t want to see without anyone knowing who they are. When a yak receives a score of -5, it is removed. If a person’s content is continually downvoted or flagged, Yik Yak will ban them. Furthermore, they can encourage the type of content they want to see by upvoting it.

While researching Yik Yak, I discovered another app that was already moving in to take its place and this one allows pictures. There is always a new app around the corner. Instead of chasing apps, communities need to come together to incorporate digital citizenship in schools, support parents on having the digital talk at home, and teach kids and teens the value of making good choices online. We are still developing social norms for a wired world, it is important to work together to create a supportive atmosphere for our children both online and off.

 

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