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Digital Dating Abuse May Affect 1 in 4 Teens – And Mostly Boys

A new study shows that more than a quarter of teens are victims of digital dating abuse.

Digital dating abuse uses technology to repetitively harass a romantic partner with the intent to control, coerce, intimidate, annoy, or threaten them, researchers explain. Given that teens in relationships today are constantly in touch with each other via texting, social media, and video chat, more opportunities for digital dating abuse can arise.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire sought to clarify the extent to which teens are experiencing digital forms of dating abuse, as well as identify what factors are contributing to those experiences.

The study included 2,218 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 who have been in a romantic relationship.

The study found that 28.1 percent of teens who had been in a romantic relationship at some point in the previous year said they had been the victim of at least one form of digital dating abuse, including:

  • whether their significant other looked through the contents of their 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; and
  • posted or shared a private picture of them without permission.

Additionally, the study found that more than one-third of the teens — 35.9 percent —  had been the victim at least one form of traditional dating abuse. They were pushed, grabbed or shoved; hit or threatened to be hit; called names or criticized; or prevented from doing something they wanted to do, the researchers report.

Interestingly, according to the researchers, males were significantly more likely to have experienced digital dating abuse (32.3 percent) compared to females (23.6 percent). Boys were also more likely to experience all types of digital dating abuse, and were even more likely to experience physical aggression.

No other differences emerged with respect to demographic characteristics, such as sexual orientation, race, and age, according to the study’s findings.

“Specific to heterosexual relationships, girls may use more violence on their boyfriends to try to solve their relational problems, while boys may try to constrain their aggressive impulses when trying to negotiate discord with their girlfriends,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., lead author and a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

“It is clear that digital dating abuse affects a meaningful proportion of teenagers, and we need to model and educate youth on what constitutes a healthy, stable relationship and what betrays a dysfunctional, problematic one.”

The researchers also found a significant connection between digital and traditional forms of dating abuse: 81 percent of the teens who had been the target of digital dating abuse had also been the target of traditional dating abuse.

Teens victimized offline were approximately 18 times more likely to have also experienced online abuse compared to those who were not victimized offline. Similarly, most of the teens who had been the victim of offline dating violence also had been the victim of online dating violence, though the proportion was lower at 63 percent.

A number of risk factors were significantly associated with digital dating abuse, the researchers discovered.

Teens who reported depressive symptoms were about four times as likely to have experienced digital dating abuse.

Those who reported that they had sexual intercourse were 2.5 times as likely to have experienced digital dating abuse. Students who had sent a “sext” to another person were nearly five times as likely to be the target of digital dating abuse as compared to those who had not sent a sext. Finally, those who had been the target of cyberbullying also were likely to have been the target of digital dating abuse.

“As we observe ‘Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month’ (in February), we are hopeful that our research will provide more information on the context, contributing factors, and consequences of these behaviors,” said Hinduja. “Gaining a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological mind-set and the situational circumstances of current-day adolescents may significantly inform the policy and practice we need to develop to address this form and all forms of dating abuse.”

The study was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Source: Florida Atlantic University

Digital Dating Abuse May Affect 1 in 4 Teens – And Mostly Boys

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Digital Dating Abuse May Affect 1 in 4 Teens – And Mostly Boys. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Feb 2020 (Originally: 15 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Feb 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.