Teen Digital Relationship Abuse

Teen Digital Relationship Abuse:

Relationship abuse, often called domestic abuse, is nothing new to teens or adults, it has been around since humans have interacted in partnerships/intimate relationships.  However, what is new – how technology is being used by a partner to emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially, sexually, and financially control another person.  This is a form of violence plain and simple, that is delivered via technology and digital medium.

According to a 2009 study conducted by MTV on digital abuse:

  • 22% of young people interviewed felt like their significant other digitally checked up on them too often
  • 10% of teens reported that their partner demanded their passwords from them
  • 17% of teens reported that they felt threatened or manipulated by their partner online

The academic peer-reviewed research shows that teen digital relationship abuse, via the use of computers, cellphones, text messaging, and social networking websites, is increasingly being used to monitor, threaten, and harass partners. In fact, Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin Patching with the Cyberbullying Research Center found that 28% of 12 to 17-year-old teens reported that they had experienced some form of digital relationship abuse in all its forms:


Here in Canada, PrevNet and Queens University released a 2021 report called, “Addressing Youth Dating Violence” where they reported that up to 30% of teens that they surveyed stated that they had experienced digital relationship abuse.


Again, teen digital relationship abuse is any form of abusive behavior between partners that takes place by using technology to emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially, sexually, and financially control another person. Teen digital relationship abuse can include:

  • A partner who repeatedly sends text messages wanting to know the who, what, where, when, how, and why of what you are doing, and expects reciprocation.
  • A partner who demands, or steals, passwords to your phone and social media platforms.
  • A partner who hacks or spies on a partner’s social network or email account.
  • Posing as the partner on a Social Network to exert control by altering the page or online profile.
  • A partner who floods a social network page with negative messages about the relationship.
  • A partner who continues to share private information online without consent.
  • Pressuring a partner to send a sexually explicit message (nudes).
  • A partner who threatens to harm themselves when you disagree or mentioned that you wish to end the relationship.

Teen digital relationship abuse is not something that should be taken lightly, as often it can lead to physical abuse. In fact Dr Brett Holefeld at the University of Newfoundland found that approximately 50% of those who experience digital relationship abuse experience traditional teen dating violence. So, what can you do if your child is being targeted? Here’s what we and other experts recommend; teach teens to:

  1. Communicate: If you don’t like what is going on talk to your partner about which behaviors are upsetting you.
  2. Keep your passwords secret: When pressured by your partner to share your password, don’t do it. Remember that “NO” is a complete sentence and has no room for negotiation. If your partner doesn’t respect your non-willingness to provide your password to them, this is a strong indication that they have control issues.
  3. Trust your gut: If you don’t like what your partner is saying online about you, tell a friend, a parent, teacher, or someone else who can help you.
  4. Screen capture everything: If you are going to report your partner’s behaviour, you need evidence to support your claim. Screen capture everything and hide it in a vault-app or decoy app so that your partner can’t find it and delete it.
  5. Report it: If things continue to escalate to the point where your partner is making threats or demands, report it to the police and show them the screenshot you have saved as evidence to support your complaint.
  6. Draw your line: There is no need for you to settle for a relationship that doesn’t give you any breathing room. Take control. Delete, unfriend, and defend your digital and real-world domain.

  1. Change your passwords: If you do decide to leave a relationship, ensure that the day before you break it off, change all your passwords on your devices and social media platforms, and don’t tell your partner you have done so. This will prevent them from accessing your accounts and secretly posting mean comments as a weapon, and then changing your passwords so that you can get in to take them down.

We speak to teen digital relationship abuse in our middle school and high school social media safety and digital literacy presentations with students. We actually believe deeper discussions on this topic should take place as a family, and should also be integrated into social awareness, responsibility, and health core curriculum in North American schools. Knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power when it comes to preventing teen digital relationship abuse.

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