Learning about healthy relationships happens at every age, but often accelerates in teen years. For many teens, technology features heavily in first crushes and relationships. For Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month this February, take a few minutes to learn some do’s and don’ts of how to support safe, healthy relationships in-person and online.
Do’s and Don’ts of Increasing Online Safety and Privacy
Since most teens have a smartphone or spend large amounts of their time online, technology naturally becomes a large part of how they interact with friends and romantic partners. Empowering teens to develop healthy habits with technology can help increase their safety and confidence with their online interactions. And even though it may feel difficult to keep track of technology trends, the advice for supporting young people in an abusive relationship is the same:
- DO build a trusting connection. Listen without judgment, take their situation seriously, and thank them for sharing. It is possible to earn the trust of your teen even if you don’t understand the ins and outs of how teens interact online.
- DON’T assume your teen won’t be exposed to dating abuse. Dating abuse is common and affects about one in three teens. Abuse can include physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, or emotional harm in-person or online. Talking to your teen about healthy and abusive relationships can also help them recognize when their friends need help.
- DO ask open-ended questions to understand how technology is involved. What is happening? Where, when, and with who? What does the teen want to happen?
- DON’T see technology as the enemy. Online communities can allow young people to connect with their friends, access information, express themselves and find supportive or like-minded communities. They can build a sense of belonging with others online, boosting their self-esteem and sense of community. Keep building a trusting relationship with your teen to understand how they’re using technology and what they’re getting out of it.
- DO engage in conversation about safety in a non-judgmental and supportive way: How do they feel about what’s happening? How have they been keeping safe?
- DON’T assume online relationships or interactions aren’t as serious. Cyber dating abuse can intensify common tactics used by abusive partners to gain power or control, like stalking. There is a strong link between cyber dating abuse and psychological dating abuse. All forms of abuse, online or offline, can have negative impacts on mental health of survivors.
- DO decide on next steps together: This could involve safety planning around the relationship and creating technology boundaries. There are some decisions that parents or caregivers need to make on behalf of a teen, but as much as possible, involve them in decisions that will impact them and explain decisions you are making
The best way to stop teen dating violence is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Through modeling safe and communicative relationships to young people, we can begin to shape what healthy relationships look and feel like.
- Join the Office of Domestic Violence Strategies for a webinar on Teen Dating Abuse and Technology on Feb. 28 from noon to 1 p.m. on Zoom. Panelists will discuss the intersection of technology and online safety in teen relationships.
- Visit That’s Not Cool, which helps to educate youth on dating abuse and, specifically, digital abuse.
About the Author: Emily Walter is pursuing her masters of social work at the University of Pennsylvania with a concentration in macro social work. She is an intern with the Office of Domestic Violence Strategies with the City of Philadelphia.