Do you remember when you were a teen and you believed that your boyfriend or girlfriend’s jealousy and possessiveness were signs that they loved you? At some point, you usually smartened up and felt suffocated by the constant questioning and control. Back then, you were able to take the phone off the hook or walk away. Unfortunately, times have changed. Now, thanks to technology, a romantic partner (or ex) can harass and stalk you to a degree unlike anything we could ever have imagined.
This is the reality of textual harassment.
While most parents are well aware of the dangers of cyber bullying, there is still a lack of understanding about textual harassment. In part, this is due to the fact that our teens aren’t sharing what’s happening. According to national statistics, 1 in 6 teens is a victim of cyber bullying by peers, but 1 in 4 dating teens report being harassed online or through text by their partners.
Sadly though, while teens are becoming more likely to report cyber bullying, less than 1 in 10 victims of digital dating abuse seek help. There are several reasons why textual harassment is so under reported but, most importantly, the majority of the victims don’t understand that it’s actually abuse. It’s hard for young people to understand when “attention” from a partner becomes “control.” While “checking in” is acceptable, “blowing up” a partner’s phone with texts and calls starts to cross the line.
The Technology and Teen Dating Abuse Survey, conducted by Teen Research Unlimited for Liz Claiborne, found that one in three teens say they have been text messaged 10, 20 or 30 times an hour by a partner wanting to know where they are, what they’re doing, or who they’re with. One in four teens in a relationship have been called names, harassed or put down by a partner through cell phones and texting. More than half of teen girls (51 percent) say pressure from a guy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images, and 18 percent of teen boys say pressure from a girl is a reason (yes, it happens to boys as well).
The other reason teens are reluctant to report textual harassment to their parents is their afraid their phone will be taken away and they’ll be forced to break up with their partner. As with any abusive relationship, the victim has a difficult time ending the relationship, believing the person will change or the behavior is part of any healthy relationship. Even if you know and like your teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend, you can never be certain that textual harassment isn’t occurring. Most importantly, understand that while the majority of victims are girls, it can also happen to boys.
So what can a parent do? First, bring up the subject with your teen and take a look at the website That’s Not Cool which offers resources on how to recognize and stop textual harassment. Recognize some of the signs that your teen might be in an abusive situation:
- She becomes withdrawn from family and friends
- Seems nervous or anxious, constantly checking her phone
- Begins dressing differently (a boyfriend might be dictating how she should dress)
- Mood swings
- Withdrawal from activities she used to enjoy
- Talk to your child’s friends and find out what they think of her boyfriend.
- Look through her phone to see how many texts and calls she’s receiving
- Seek professional help from a therapist or domestic violence crisis center.
Textual harassment is as dangerous as cyber bullying. Parents must be sensitive to the issue and act quickly to help.