Two in five teens surveyed experienced cyber dating abuse, which involves the use of technology to control, harass, threaten or stalk another person in the context of a dating relationship, in the previous three months, according to a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC study that appears online in Pediatrics.
The study is the first about cyber dating abuse among a group of young people who are using school-based health services, said senior investigator Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., chief, Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital.
Done in collaboration with the California Adolescent Health Collaborative of the Public Health Institute, California School-Based Health Alliance and Futures Without Violence, the study was conducted at eight school-based health centers in California where students receive confidential clinical health services, including annual check-ups, sports physicals and birth control. The study, conducted during the 2012-2013 school year, assessed teens ages 14 to 19, for exposure to cyber dating abuse, adolescent relationship abuse, sexual behavior, and care-seeking for sexual and reproductive health.
Key findings showed 41 percent of teens reported experiencing this form of abuse within the last three months, with more females than males reporting such victimization. Most commonly, their partners used technology including mobile apps, social networks, texts, or other digital communication to repeatedly contact them to see where they were and who they were with.
“These findings underscore that cyber dating abuse is an emerging concern,” said Dr. Miller, also an associate professor of pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “We need to support prevention efforts that increase education about the many different forms of abuse in adolescent relationships, and to encourage parents, teachers, coaches and others to talk to young people about what healthy relationships look like.”
Like previous research examining this form of abuse, the researchers found that teens exposed to cyber dating abuse were more likely to also experience other forms of physical and sexual dating abuse, such as being slapped, choked or made to have sex by a dating partner, and also non-partner sexual assault. Additionally, greater exposure to cyber dating abuse was associated with less contraceptive use among adolescent girls.
“It is concerning to see such a large number of young people reporting these cyber dating abuse experiences, and to learn that experiencing this form of abuse is associated with other unhealthy behaviors such as not using any method of contraception for birth control,” said Rebecca Dick, MS, clinical research coordinator, Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s, and the first author of the study.
“Professionals should take cyber dating abuse seriously and actively ask teens if they are being monitored, threatened or sexually coerced by their partner using technology-based communication,” added Dr. Miller. “Given the prevalence of cyber dating abuse in this sample of adolescents, we recommend that relationship abuse prevention education include cyber dating abuse and that such education and counseling be integrated into health assessments in clinical settings.”
Cyber Dating Abuse Among Teens Using School-Based Health Centers, Rebecca N. Dick, MS, Heather L. McCauley, ScD, Kelley A. Jones, MPH, Daniel J. Tancredi, PhD, Sandi Goldstein, MPH, Samantha Blackburn, RN, MSN, PNP, Erica Monasterio, RN, MN, FNP-BC, Lisa James, MS, Jay G. Silverman, PhD, and Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, Pediatrics, doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-0537, published online 17 November 2014.
The study was supported by Award No. 2011-MU-MU-0023, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.