Teen Dating Violence in the Technological Age

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What role do our new technologies play in teen dating violence? According to an August 2010 study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, they play a significant one.  Electronic technologies have given us the ability to stay in constant touch with our loved ones which, in theory, is a good thing but not, necessarily, in practice.  The study found that in relationships where there is verbal, emotional, and physical violence, electronic aggression serves as another possible source of cruelty. 

The study’s lead author, Dr. Claire Burke Draucker, said her research team sought to identify technology’s role in dating after doing interviews with young adults where they were surprised “by the large role that electronic technologies, such as cell phones and the Internet, played in the dating violence stories.”  According to Dr. Draucker, “the use of technologies adds dimensions to the dating violence experience that are not well understood.  For example, if a partner calls a teen a derogatory name on Facebook, the insult stays indefinitely and it is seen by many, and therefore is likely to have different effects than if said privately.” 

More specifically, the perpetrators of teen dating violence used technology to control their partners’ behaviors by influencing who they socialize with and to verbally abuse them.  Abusers would repeatedly call their partners to find out where they were, who they were with, and to berate them if they were with someone the abuser saw as a threat.  The verbal abuse occurred as phone messages, abusive text and email messages, and even abusive websites dedicated to the victims of the attacks.  Abusers would also use electronic technology to invade privacy by taking the victims’ mobile telephone to look at call and text histories or to hack into a social networking email to look for incriminating evidence of infidelity.

Finally, Dr. Draucker points out that both parents and clinicians need to be aware of the possibility of electronic aggression.  For clinicians, those “who work with adolescents who are at risk for dating violence should explore whether they use electronic technologies aggressively or whether they are the recipients of aggression via electronic technologies.”  Likewise, parents need to be aware that of this potential use of electronic technologies as “many of the participants in our study did not tell their parents about the aggression they experienced as a result of the technologies, although they were deeply disturbed by it.”

By Rosemary Prem
Rosemary Prem is a 2010 graduate of the Psychology program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has minors in Social Change and Development and Theater and is currently applying to graduate programs in Psychology.