Technology-related abuse is a relatively new concept. With a seemingly never-ending rise of teens engaging with social media and ample screen time, there has been an increase in teens using technology in ways that may be harmful to the person they’re dating. Love is Respect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, defines technology-related abuse as “the use of technologies like texting and social media to bully, harass, stalk, or intimidate a partner. This behavior is often a form of verbal or emotional abuse, conducted online.”

Some examples of technology-related abuse include messages sent through social media, controlling phone calls (e.g., calling multiple times in a short period to ask where someone is or who they’re with), tracking a person’s location or forcing them to “prove” where they are by means of photos, invading someone’s privacy by looking through their messages and/or call logs, monitoring someone through surveillance technology, and sharing intimate photos of someone without their consent.

Many teens, and people in general, share their locations with their partners; however, this kind of surveillance could be an invasion of privacy and form of abuse depending on the situation. Similarly, monitoring someone’s social media activity potentially opens the door for abusive patterns to develop early on.

The appropriateness of looking through a partner’s phone is a common topic of debate within teen relationships. Invading someone’s privacy through technology can be a sign of technology-related abuse, yet some would argue that if a person doesn’t want someone else going through their phone, they must have something to hide. This argument ignores the fact that people should always have the right to privacy and the right to set boundaries with someone they are dating (and in general), regardless of the status or length of the relationship. Telling someone they have to share passwords or let their partner go through their phone is a potentially manipulative approach that could lead to, or be part of, a pattern of someone using technology to spy on or control their dating partner. This is especially true given how normalized situations like this have become in our society.

There are a number of common misperceptions surrounding technology-related abuse. Snapchat, which is currently one of (if not the) most common ways that teens communicate, has numerous misconceptions surrounding it. A common misunderstanding parents may have of Snapchat is that all users are on the app to send intimate photos, sexually explicit messages, or meet romantic/sexual partners. I assure you, this is not the case. Most Snapchat users are on the platform to communicate with friends, classmates, or peers, as it has more features than texting, and allows teens to stay in touch or communicate to large groups in a much simpler way than other apps offer.

A main feature of Snapchat is that messages disappear after 24 hours. In a case where a teen uses Snapchat to share explicit videos and images, there are unfortunately ways for the recipient to save and share the message to others without the sender knowing. While Snapchat does notify users if their messages or images have been screenshotted or saved, teens have found workarounds. While most teens are aware of the dangers of sending intimate pictures online, they are often not aware of the consequences that could result, such as someone potentially distributing the photos to a much wider audience or demanding something in exchange for not distributing them. It is extremely important for parents to have these conversations about the risks, but with loving concern and care, instead of anger or judgement.

Awareness of technology-related abuse is rising; this type of abuse is often overlooked by teens and even seen as “normal.” It is extremely important to educate teens about how unhealthy behaviors can lead to abuse. The TeenSafe curriculum includes education regarding technology-related abuse and recognizes that technology can be a significant tool that one person might use to manipulate, control, or harm their partner. We encourage everyone to learn more about this important issue!

Abby Mahr is a senior at Westborough High School and has been a TeenSafe Peer Leader for the past three years. She is passionate about engaging our community’s youth in conversations surrounding healthy relationships and self-advocacy.

If you are concerned about a relationship you are in, or if you are concerned about someone you know, trained advocates at Love is Respect are available 24/7 to offer support by phone at 866-331-9474, by texting LOVEIS to 22522, or by online chat at Teens and adults can also reach out to JF&CS Journey to Safety at or by calling 781-647-5327 ext. 1213 for additional support.

JF&CS TeenSafe is partnering with CJP’s Jewish Teen Initiative to engage more teens in educating our community about how to identify unhealthy behaviors in relationships and seek help when needed. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Throughout the month, TeenSafe Peer Leadership Fellows will speak on important topics relating to teen dating abuse and healthy relationships through blog posts and Instagram posts. For more information, please follow @teenSafe_jfcs on Instagram.

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