Q: [Adolescents and Teens] My teenager was upset after a text she received last night. How do I talk to her about it?
A: We are living in a digital age. So when the Internet and teen dating start to intersect, it can be daunting for both parents and teens to learn how to navigate Internet and social media usage in a healthy way.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 94 percent of teens who go online using a mobile device do so daily, and nearly all of them share their real name and photos of themselves.
It’s important for adults and teens to know the facts surrounding digital relationship violence. Defined as the use of technology to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner, this can include constant texts and phone calls, using social media or GPS to track locations, stealing passwords, pressure to send explicit photos and videos, and sending negative messages. So how can you protect your teen?
1. Start early and talk, talk, talk. It is never too early to start talking and create a safe space for discussion—even on the tough issues. During adolescence, teens experience significant emotional, psychological and physical changes, so they need you more than ever to keep the conversation going (which may include a lot of listening, too!).
2. Create a plan and work with your teen on a Digital Safety Plan. Discuss what they are comfortable sharing online and why, talk about privacy settings and establish digital boundaries with relationships.
3. Know key warning signs including excessive digital usage, giving up things that used to be important to her/him, declining grades or missing school, apologizing for their boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s behavior, or injuries they try to cover up or cannot explain.
4. Focus on the good and discuss what healthy relationships look like, where communication is respectful—in person, online or by phone. Remind your teen they never deserve to be mistreated and praise them when you notice a healthy relationship or friendship being formed.
5. Ask for help if you or your teen need confidential resources outside of your home. The National Dating Abuse Helpline is 1-866-331-9474; check out the resources on loveisrespect.org or get connected to local programs addressing abuse and violence at Human Options in Orange County.
Maricela Rios-Faust is CEO of Human Options, a nonprofit that ignites social change by educating Orange County to recognize relationship violence as an issue that threatens everyone, advocating for those affected by abuse, extending a safe place for victims and empowering survivors on their journey of healing.