On December 10, 2012 Michelle Healy for USA Today wrote an article on teen dating and the effects these early experiences may have on adult functioning. Her reported statistics were alarming: 30% of a large number of teens surveyed for research reported being a victim of teen dating violence. Even more alarming were the links to increased alcohol use, depression and suicidal thoughts in both girls and boys.
As a psychologist that has spent much of my training and current clinical practice on very high conflict divorce, the pattern described by these young folks is all too familiar. Issues of power and control seem to be expressed at very young ages. This leaves teens struggling to learn skills to understand and handle this behavior in a healthy manner.
While most of the teens surveyed reported emotional harassment over physical abuse, the article made me think of previous teens I have encountered who have been able to discuss issues of power and control. Boys post on girls walls about their sexual escapades (either true or not true) and girls bully other girls for dating so-and-so. Yet, what I continue to hear is that many of the teens believe that social media has made things worst. Many of them have told me that teens no longer talk face to face about difficult issues and that they believe that certain teens would not bully if the computer did not make it so easy to do so in a distanced fashion. Harassment happens quickly and teens often feel like they need help addressing these tough situations. The results, as we have heard of the years, can be down right devastating and as Healy reported above, the consequences of such experiences can last into adulthood.
So, what can we do to help?
1. Engage in open discussions with teens about healthy versus unhealthy relationships.
2. Teach teens conflict resolution skills via the use of social media.
3. Bring teens in for therapy if someone suspects that there is bullying or dating violence occurring.
4. Use the power of social media to point teens to resources that might help. For example, thatsnotcool.com, itgetsbetter.org and teensource.org are all organizations aimed at teens to assist with increasing support and knowledge.
For more information on teens and social media, including teen dating violence, click here.