This paper examines over fifteen published articles that report on teen dating violence and computer mediated communication. This paper explores research conducted on teen dating violence, cyberbullying and cell phone use to evaluate how the availability and ease of constant communication in this new digital age influences teen dating violence. Many of the studies examined used surveys of teens in American public schools to look at how electronic communication, cyber bullying, and digital lifestyle play a role in teen dating violence. Debnam, K. J., Johnson, S. L., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2014) found that twenty-three percent of students feel that teen dating violence is a problem in their school. Stonard, K. E., Bowen, E., Walker, K., & Price, S. A. (2017). and Dick, R. N., McCauley, H. L., Jones, K. A., Tancredi, D. J., Goldstein, S., Blackburn, S., et al. (2014) established that cyber dating co-occurs with teen dating violence and is commonly associated with teen dating violence, and one-half of persons that are cyber dating are also victims of physical abuse. In contrast, Korchmaros, J. D., Ybarra, M. L., Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Boyd, d., & Lenhart, A. (2013) found that eight-two percent of perpetrators of physical teen dating violence used long standing methods of communication not digital communication methods, such as cell phones, but that computer mediated communication, like social media sites and cell phone use, perpetuates teen dating violence by allowing for easy sharing of information resulting in re-victimization. Korchmaros et. al., (2013) and MacPherson, S., Brown, E. C., Herold, B., & Narayan, A. (2018), agree that more research is needed to understand how digital communication, such as cell phones that are available to teens twenty-four hours a day, relates to teen dating violence. Research in this area can aid in the development of provider, parent, and school education on teen dating violence and on prevention.
Teen Dating Violence: the Digital Age
Cell phones are part of everyone’s daily routine, and they are not just phones, they are mobile computing units with the power of the average personal computer. This burst of electronic technology has created a new environment for social interaction among the youth of today. Examination of research articles related to cyberbullying, teen dating violence, and the use of cell phones in teenagers and behaviors that put teens at risk for violence, will aid in the understanding of teen dating violence and the effect cell phone use has on teen dating violence. Ninety-percent of teens report using social media daily, while twenty-five percent report constant use throughout the day (Wellman, Reddington, & Clark, 2017). Young, A. M., Grey, M., & Boyd, C. J. (2009) found that that fifty percent of high school students report an assault in school. Martinez-Pecino, R., & Durán, M. (2019) found that the execution of cyberbullying in dating relationships through mobile phone use last year was 47.8%. In the current age of social media, constant contact, and computers at our fingertips, peers and predators have immediate and constant access to our teens unlike ever before. Is this constant, unlimited access that cell phones allow, putting our teens at greater risk of dating violence?
Teen dating violence is often studied separately from bullying, but several studies focused on the relationship bullying has to teen dating violence. Debnam, K. J., Johnson, S. L., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2014) found that students that had been bullied had more concerns about teen dating violence. Debnam et al., (2014) and Vivolo‐Kantor, A. M., Olsen, E. O., & Bacon, S. (2016), both found that when students perceive a school is unsafe, they are more worried about teen dating violence.
Zweig, J. M., Dank, M., Yahner, J., & Lachman, P. (2013) research study of 3, 745 students expanded across three states, aimed to further the insight into teen dating violence by examining the use of technology and its influence on cyberbullying and cyber dating abuse. They found that there is a high degree of overlap between sexual, non-sexual, and other forms of dating violence with cyber bullying. In contrast, Cutbush, S., Williams, J., & Miller, S. (2016) quasi-experimental longitudinal evaluation design compared schools from racially and geographically diverse cities across the country over two years examining the relationship of bullying to teen dating violence. They found that bullying for boys was not related to teen dating violence and that bullying for both boys and girls was related to perception of gender roles and functions independently of other aggressive behaviors. There were significant findings including that bullying in girls in middle school was related to teen dating violence in later adolescence and prevention education should be conducted in younger years. This study, along with low participation rates and the concern that self-reported aggression may be underreported, may also be out of date due to changes in technology and electronic communication.
Mobile phones functions and use increases daily, as does their influence on teenager’s social lives and relationships. Today’s youths’ social world and daily activities revolve around cell phones, watching and creating videos, and connecting to one another on social media (Zweig et. al, 2013). Yahner, J., Dank, M., Zweig, J. M., & Lachman, P. (2015) cross-sectional study of 5, 647 youth from 10 different schools examined the overlap of teen dating violence, bullying and victimization related to physical, psychological abuse, and digitally perpetrated abuse. They found that over half of perpetrators of cyber bulling also carry out dating violence. They theorized based on their research findings that that once youth recognized the ease of anonymity that cyber abuse allows, they find it an acceptable tool to use. Temple, J. R., Choi, H. J., Brem, M., Wolford-Clevenger, C., Stuart, G. L., Peskin, M. F., & Elmquist, J. (2016) research aimed to examine the relationship of traditional abuse and cyber abuse over time. Their results correlate with Zweig et al. (2013) and Yahner et al. (2015) findings that cyber dating abuse and physical abuse are related concurrently, and that cyber abuse may be a form or psychological abuse. These studies were limited to surveys, with limited geographical location and reliance on self-reported information but found that cyber abuse is reciprocal and related to physical abuse, but that psychological abuse does not directly lead to cyber abuse. Reed, L. A., Tolman, R. M., & Ward, L. M. (2016) also found that digital dating victimization was reciprocal and that victims also were perpetrators and that there is a strong correlation between digital dating abuse and physical, psychological and sexual abuse in teen dating relationships. In contrast to Zweig et al., (2013) but in line with Reed et. al, (2016), Dick, R. N., McCauley, H. L., Jones, K. A., Tancredi, D. J., Goldstein, S., Blackburn, S., et al. (2014) in their research study based in adolescent clinic based sample of teens 14-19 seeking care found that cyber dating abuse is common and associated with teen dating abuse and sexual assault. Reed et al. (2016) proved that there is a strong correlation between digital dating abuse and physical, psychological and sexual abuse in teen dating relationships.
Social media provides an easily accessible platform for communication, providing constant access to children and teens that has not been available in the past. Teens can choose to display personal information publically to a wide audience. Teens also can explore feelings openly, communicating with unknown but similar adolescents, but certain online behaviors put teens at risk for abuse. One half of teens in Temple, van den Berg, Vi Donna Le, McElhany and Temple (2012) reported having been asked to send nude photographs while one in four students were found to have sent a nude picture. The display of sexual content online increases a teenager’s risk of online victimization (Brown, Keller, Stern, 2009). Temple et.al (2012) found that teens are sending naked photos and teens that participated in sexting were at a higher risk of sexual intercourse and risky sexual behavior. Holt, M., Espelage, D., Van Ryzin, M., & Bowman, C. (2018) connected a higher rate of cyberbullying victimization to students who had sex under the influence and sex with more than four partners, linking teen dating violence with sexual risk-taking behaviors.
In the 1970’s most adolescent assaults were committed by a boyfriend or date whereas Young, A. M., Grey, M., & Boyd, C. J. (2009) found that currently only fifteen percent of adolescent acquaintance assault is committed by a boyfriend , reflecting the change in trends related to youth relationships. Fast paced methods of communication such as social networking, video chat, instant messenger, are redefining teens social network. Stonard, K. E., Bowen, E., Walker, K., & Price, S. A. (2017) used focus groups to collect data and examine the use of electronic communication. Teens in the study described written communication as “staying with you” throughout the day and being able to be replayed. If abusive messages were received, the victim would be able to replay the messages over and over again. The results from Stonard et al., (2017) study correlate with Korchmaros, J. D., Ybarra, M. L., Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Boyd, d., & Lenhart, A. (2013) who found that computer mediated communication can be easily shared and allows for re-victimization. Teens also expressed feeling the messages in digital form were more concrete then spoken words. Teens in the study discussed the positive impact of electronic communication on a developing relationship and in maintaining a relationship but were able to acknowledge that it could be used for unhealthy and controlling behaviors. Younger teens expressed more depression and anxiety related to electronic communication with a partner, and electronic communication amplified anxiety and frustration for partners. Zweig, J. M., Lachman, P., Yahner, J., & Dank, M. (2014) proved that with the same sample group as Zweig et al., (2013) cyber dating abuse was associated more with females, depression, anger, hostility, and delinquency then other types of dating violence.
Korchmaros et. al, (2013) study used a national sample of youth with a history of dating. They found that the perpetration of psychological teen dating violence uses computer mediated communication as an extension of long-standing methods of communication. Perpetrators use text messaging three times more frequently for psychological teen dating violence because they have continuous access to texting. Computer based behavior, such as texting, can be more easily shared with others, has greater visibility and facilitates opportunities for re-victimization (Korchmaros et al., 2013). In a retrospective chart review study conducted by MacPherson, S., Brown, E. C., Herold, B., & Narayan, A. (2018) established that cell phone use, texting and talk functions, were the most common devices used by perpetrators of sexual assault to contact their victims. Reed, L. A., Tolman, R. M., & Ward, L. M. (2016) noted that digital media has changed how relationship boundaries are negotiated and when a conflict already exists removes physical violence and may be safer in some circumstances, but that it also leads to repeated pattern of abuse. These behaviors may be more harmful, such as pressuring partners to take nude photos on a cell phone and threatening to distribute embarrassing information. Van Ouytsel, J., Ponnet, K., & Walrave, M. (2018) survey study of 1,187 secondary school students found that access to social media using smartphones and mobile data plans allowed offenders to have access to victims without supervision by guardians and also allows the offender to contact the victim anytime throughout the day and night. Smartphones are not shared by family members like other computer devices such as laptops or tablets and therefore are less supervised by parents or guardians (Van Ouytsel, 2018). Elizabeth Whittaker & Robin M. Kowalski (2015) also found social media and texting to be the most common venue for cyberbullying and that comments directed by peers toward peers were most negatively perceived. Whittaker and Kowalski (2015) also stated that electronic communication is changing at a rapid pace and how cyberbullying is carried out also changes as the times change.
In 2014, Yahner et al., stated that half of cyber bullies executed dating violence. Cyber dating violence/cyberbullying leads to physiological, physical and sexual violence, therefore allowing teen’s continuous access to cell phones with internet, social networking and text messaging puts them at constant risk of violence. This statement is largely supported by the aforesaid discussion of research.
Limitations of These Studies
Discrepancies in the research may be largely related to study design. Most of the studies were conducted through surveys and those that were not survey studies were case studies, chart review, or focus groups, relying on self-reported information. Limitations to this study design will be discussed in further detail below.
Technological limitations. Overestimation or underestimation of accounts of violence, related to recall error or due to misinterpretation of accidental harm due to study design (Zweig et al., 2013). Young et al., (2009) cited limited space for questions and only single-item indicators used to assess teen dating violence victimization types and other violence related experiences and behaviors at school. Young et al. in 2009 collected data in a cross-sectional study, and provided only an indication of associations between TDV and the selected health risk behaviors.
Demographic limitations. Small sample size and physical locations were limiting to each of these studies. Results from these studies were only generalizable and not reprehensive to all geographical and racial teens in this age group (Vivolo-Kantor et al., 2016).
Modality limitations. Results may be skewed passed on self-reporting, students may report more victimization over their own violent behaviors due to the pressure of social norms and social desirability (Zweig et al., 2013). Small study size and geographical location limits the results to other areas and racial and social groups. Cross-sectional data provides only an indication of associated behaviors with then dating violence and only evaluates the selected health risks (Young et. al., 2009). Due to the fast and ever-changing technological advances, teen use and daily reliance on cell phones changes daily. Keeping up with these changes to allow for the study of their influence is a complex and constantly evolving.
Conclusion and Future Study
In order to gain a full understanding of how constant communication, having access to text, internet, social media and phone calls all day and night through mobile phones, puts teens at risk for dating violence, it is necessary to understand the risk factors associated with teen dating violence. The current research shows that cyberbullying is directly related to physical violence, females are at greater risk than males, and that there are online behaviors that put teens at greater risk of cyberbullying, digital dating abuse and teen dating violence.
With the constant changes in technology, social networking and ease and capacity of cell phone use, along with the availability and the use of cell phones by younger ages, monitoring and understanding the dangers of cell phone use and how to prevent teen dating violence is increasingly important for a broader age range. Technology is advancing rapidly, apps on phone change daily. More longitudinal studies are needed to evaluate the risk of social media to teens today. Intervention and prevention goals should aim to target multiple forms of abuse, such as teen dating violence and bullying to be effective and efficient, and education should begin in middle school, as research shows that bullying in middle school is related to teen dating violence in teen years. Education and prevention programs should be tailored to perpetrators and victims of cyber abuse, dating abuse, and bullying and should begin at younger ages as the age of cell phone users decreases.