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Responding to Technology Abuse in Teen Dating Violence

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~ By Mitru Ciarlante

Editors Note: After reading the Liz Claiborne report on teens, technology, and dating violence that I posted about last week, our staff wondered how adults can address this problem and support youth experiencing this type of abuse. I would like to thank Mitru Ciarlante, director of the Youth Initiative at the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C. for being a guest blogger and answering our many questions. Mitru is also the author of the article “Disclosing Sexual Victimization.” ~Colette

The Prevention Researcher) What types of technology abuse do you see happening most frequently?

Mitru Ciarlante) Using cell phones to call and text partners and ex-partners to ask where they are, what they are doing, who they are with, and otherwise monitor a partner’s behavior and/or make emotional demands for reassurances and professions of love, loyalty, and exclusivity. This includes using cell phones to stalk victims, and texting and calling others to report on the partner’s behavior.

TPR) How does a parent or someone who works with youth determine the difference between excessive but harmless use of technology and abuse through technology? Are there warning signs?

MC) It is sometimes difficult to know the extent and intent of youths’ technology use. Many of these forms of communication are still emerging and we are defining norms for their use – norms which seem to keep changing. It may be difficult for adults to know and communicate clear, developmentally appropriate guidelines for using technology.

To prevent problems, it would be helpful if parents and youth could discuss some of these emerging issues and exchange ideas about safe and courteous use of technology. Together, parents and youth could create guidelines or agreements about how to use these tools responsibly and outline the consequences of breaking agreements. It is important to look beyond measureable indicators of excessive use (such as number of text messages sent) and examine the context, as this is also an important indicator that a youth is being harassed and/or using technology to abuse someone else.

Parents and others can pay attention to reactions that may need further inquiry from adults. Examples include:

  • Are the teen’s expectations about their friend’s/partner’s availability to receive and respond to messages reasonable?
  • Does the teen become angry and express hostility if text messages and other electronic communication are not answered?
  • Does interaction (via text, email, and phone) with the partner seem to result in moodiness, anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety? Is this a frequent reaction?
  • Does the youth panic about needing to return calls or messages to the partner?

TPR) How can parents monitor their teen’s safety without invading their privacy?

MC) The discussions about the ethics of parental monitoring and how much is warranted is a difficult one. Parents and youth, at times with assistance from counselors or other helpers, should discuss this as mutual problem solving and decide what is appropriate for their circumstances. As parents are responsible for a youth’s well-being, it may be helpful to think of this as monitoring the youth’s online safety, rather than framing it as monitoring the youth. This approach could help build parent-youth trust.

In one discussion of Internet monitoring that I facilitated among youth and adults, the youth reminded us that parents need to respect age-appropriate boundaries online as well as off. One daughter complained that her mother joined in her MySpace discussion with her teen girlfriends voting on the cutest boy in school. She and her friends found it creepy and uncomfortable. That would be akin to her mom lounging on her bed and adding her two cents with the girls “dishing” about cute boys. Our group decided that just as a parent might pop their head in to the daughter’s bedroom if this conversation were happening at home, a parent monitoring their youth’s social networking site should pop in, look around, ask how everybody’s doing, and exit. For many youth, knowing that a parent will “look in” occasionally is enough of a reminder to follow agreed upon “netiquette”.

If there is content there that concerns the parent, then that should be addressed immediately with the youth. For instance, the parent might check to make sure the online conversation is being conducted as “private” and that this “voting” won’t be posted where it could be found harassing or humiliating to others. It is a good example to use for parents and youth to talk about how easily this online conversation could be copied and pasted into an open online space or into an email or text and spread as a rumor that could cause problems. If the discussion was mean and insulting, the mother might tell her daughter that she doesn’t like the way the girls were talking about their peers and to remove the poll. Youth might be asked to consider how each of them would feel if such content were about them and it became known outside their private circle. They could discuss ways that privacy is breached and how to prevent the spread of malicious gossip and rumors.

Parents and other adults responsible for supervising youth should be aware that many cell phone and internet providers offer tools and options for parents to limit or monitor the use of technology for which they are paying, for example, disabling or limiting text messages, or monitoring usage details such as the frequency and length of calls and messages, as well as if they are occurring during school hours or between midnight and six a.m.

Parents wishing to monitor or restrict their youth’s internet use may find that a bit more difficult, because while filters and monitoring software may be used on the computers at home and school, youth can still use computers at the library or a friend’s house.

Additionally, families should periodically conduct a Web search of each family member’s name to stay aware of Web content that may be harmful. Inappropriate content or behavior should be reported to the web site administrators.

TPR) Do you know of any examples where teens are effectively using technology to educate their peers about dating violence, and specifically the use of technology in dating violence?

MC) Fortunately, there are many youth and adults who quickly embrace each new technological development as a tool for prevention, outreach, and intervention. Youth anti-violence activists and advocates are using technology to advance their cause by conducting media outreach campaigns to raise awareness about technology abuse on their own Web sites, youtube.com, and social networking sites.

Notable examples are loveisrespect.org and thatsnotcool.com. While these sites were developed by adult groups with input from youth, youth are using the interactive features to reach their peers.

At loveisrespect.org, the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, peer advocates provide assistance and support to youth via telephone and live chat. They address technology abuse and conduct safety planning specifically around those issues. loveisrespect.org is a 24-hour resource that can be accessed by phone or the internet, and it is specifically designed and staffed by and for teens and young adults.

A new Web site, thatsnotcool.com, raises awareness about digital dating abuse and how to stop it. Sponsored and co-created by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the Office on Violence Against Women and the Ad Council, the site is designed to address new and complicated problems between teens who are dating or hooking up—problems like constant and controlling texting, pressuring for nude pictures, and breaking into someone’s e-mail or social networking page.


Mitru Ciarlante, is director of the Youth Initiative at the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, DC. The Youth Initiative works to improve the nation’s response to youth victimization; advance rights, protections, and interventions for youth victims; and ensure youth leadership on these issues. Please see the National Center for Victims of Crime, Stalking Resource Center’s Web page on technology for more information, including links for parents about the safe use of social networking sites and other technology,

2 Responses to “Responding to Technology Abuse in Teen Dating Violence”

  1. Samantha Says:

    Great article thanks for all the tips and advice.

  2. tiffany Says:

    i learned so much from these articles

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