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By Dorothy Huther

An increase in technology over the past 10 years has allowed teens to be more connected than ever before. These advancements come with more dangers, as social media becomes the focus of young teens’ lives. Social media sites are platforms that can be used to bully without any consequences, leaving teens vulnerable to emotional, physical, sexual, or other abuse, which can take place in their relationships and friendships both online and in-person. Research shows that online abuse is happening more than what we would like to think. One study showed that 72% of high school respondents experienced at least one incident of online bullying. Furthermore, bullying can take place in relationships that can turn into abuse. In the United States, “1.5 million high school students experience psychical abuse from a dating partner each year”.

Social Media Impacts

Generation Z is the first generation growing up with advanced technology from birth into teen years. Technology has become so engrained in the life of adults and children, it’s not uncommon that by the time a child is two years old, they know how to use an iPhone! It almost seems like technology is part of their DNA. Growing up, teens are taught about the dangers of not talking to strangers or to make sure they don’t walk alone at night. Given the fact that youth experience “cyber dating abuse at a rate …comparable to that of physical dating violence," it is time to add the dangers of online abuse to adult-child talks as well. When talking about abuse online, adults must understand that abuse hurts, regardless of whether it’s happening in person or via technology. If left unchecked, online abuse can  lead to a lifetime of low self-esteem. This may cause chronic fatigue, insomnia and poor performance in school or at work. Depression is not uncommon.

Warning Signs  

An important part of a proactive conversation is knowing the signs that online abuse may be happening. Each person is different, but some common warnings of online abuse may include: unexpectedly stopping use of a device, appearing nervous around their device or upset after using it, being uneasy about going to school, obsessing about always being on a device, or being withdrawn from activities they once cared about online. In-person behavior may also change, such as having a lack of communication in the home or poor academic performance. Be in-tune with your teen and their behavior so you can identify warning signs effectively and more quickly.


Prevention is vital. Have a conversation with your teen early can make a positive impact. The following tools can be used so that everybody can take part in the conversation and bring mindful awareness to this topic.

  1. Prevent violence online by using the TEAM approach. Talk about being safe online. It is important to be open and honest with teens, having a conversation about what they are doing and what apps they are using. Explore their online world together. Once you know what apps they are using, discuss the possible risks, appropriate use, and ways to help protect them. Agree on rules about what is okay and what is not. Come up with a contract about your expectations of what they can and cannot do online. This allows a boundary to be made that both parties were involved in and agreed upon. Finally, manage your family’s control settings on all devices so they cannot access inappropriate content or software that is potentially harmful or dangerous.


  2. Another way to help a teen remember what to do if they are confronted with a confusing or potentially harmful situation is: STOP, BLOCK, and TELL. “Stop – don’t reply. Don’t forward it. Don’t threaten the abuser. Don’t act out in any way. Block – the sender, message or account so they can’t continue the abuse. And tell – a trusted adult (parents, teachers, guidance counselors, older siblings, aunts, and uncles or health professionals).” This allows the teen to cut off the negative messages and let them know it is okay to tell someone safe about what is going on. Being able to trust an adult is important in all of these tools because when teens only confide in their peers, they are often left without protective tools.


  3. Make a safe dating plan. This is where the teen and you can sit down and discuss elements of a safe dating relationship, such as respect, consent, and equality. Give examples of what these things look like in a teen relationship. Plan what steps the youth can take if they identify that abuse is happening or might happen soon and let them know how you would help if you were made aware of the situation. It is better to plan ahead than feel as though you have nothing in place, should a scary or unsafe situation arise.


When trying to find a way to approach your teen, remember the best way is to be honest and open. Listen to what they have to say and build trust. Teen dating violence is real and can stop if we all work together.




The following are resources that can be used in navigating tough conversations with teens:

Dating safety plan -

Cyberbullying/ online safety -

Healthy relationships -




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