Who Gets More Digital Dating Abuse?

A third of teens—more boys than girls—reported abusive behavior.

Posted Feb 13, 2020

Too many teens are treating their partners badly.

In a study based on a poll of more than 2,200 middle and high school students who had been in a romantic relationship, 36 percent were a victim of some ugly behavior. 

The study asked about bullying by phone or online—text threats, humiliating or threatening posts online, the sharing of private photos without permission, or the commandeering of one's phone. It also looked at shoving, hitting, threats of hitting, ridicule and criticism, and control.

Boys reported more digital abuse (32 percent) than girls (24 percent). Race, sexual preference, and age didn't make a difference. Girls also reportedly used more physical aggression than boys did when responding to a boyfriend, according to the researchers.

One takeaway for parents: If you know your child has been on the receiving end of some kind of digital abuse, consider the possibility of the other kind, too. About 80 percent of the students who had been bullied digitally also reported traditional abuse—such as slapping or hitting, or "[trying] to keep them from doing something they wanted to do."

Boys may still be less likely than girls are to complain to authorities or confide in friends or family about abusive behavior. So as a parent, it makes sense to be on the lookout regardless of a child's gender.

How to have this conversation with your child? One way is to express interest in what goes on digitally without sounding an alarm—you just want to know what it's like since your early dating days were an ancient era. Getting rid of a toxic girlfriend or boyfriend isn't easy—maybe your child is in love despite all or frightened of what they might do. Sadly, it's rough out there.