Cyberbullying vs. digital dating abuse

By Anne Collier

There are more similarities than differences between cyberbullying and digital dating abuse, it appears, so let’s be clear on what they are. The main difference is pretty obvious: A cyberbullying situation usually involves at least two people who don’t like or have much to do with each other, while digital dating abuse involves “two people who are attracted to each other on some level,” according to some fresh, research-based thinking at the Cyberbullying Research Center. But in both cases, teens seem to be at higher risk than adults – probably because they’re in the process of figuring out who they are (my speculation, not the Center’s, though they do say, as so many of us have observed, that teens’ nearly constant connectivity is probably a factor in the higher risk level). Another similarity is the bully’s or abuser’s need or desire to assert power or control over the target or “partner” – though, with cyberbullying the power imbalance is generally just psychological (unless combined with physical bullying, which can happen). Other similarities between cyberbullying and digital dating abuse the Center cites: both 1) involve technology; 2) involve known peers; 3) “lead to specific negative emotional, psychological, physical, and behavioral outcomes”; and 4) “have similar contributing factors, such as personal insecurities.”

It’s so good to get these characteristics out in the open – in families and in the public discussion. MTV is training its spotlight on the subject with “Draw Your Line (between digital use and abuse),” a new campaign launched today that celebrates actions people are taking against digital dating abuse – showing them on a digital US map to which they can post what they did to protect themselves and others. [Here’s coverage from CNN and my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid at CNET (ConnectSafely is an MTV campaign partner but neither gives nor receives financial support in the partnership).

The discussion is so important because young people need to be clear on what is and isn’t love and affection. Is his or her romantic partner texting incessantly, asking whereabouts and state of mind, acting super-possessive? The questions are not new, but 24/7 connectivity is, making young people who aren’t thinking critically about overbearing friends more available to power abuse and thus more vulnerable. So it might be good to help our children see the value of creating spaces in connectivity – you might call it “perspective time” – for thinking through how much anyone really wants to have a controlling person in their face all the time (for more on breathers and reality checks, see this).

Related links

* I love author/educator Annie Fox’s advice for tweens – here‘s a great response to one who felt hurt and rejected after a breakup and seems to have learned that “sometimes what we really need is a chance at a new relationship with ourselves” (more than a new boyfriend or girlfriend), as Fox put it .
*’s (entertainment news) coverage of the MTV campaign
* A great resource for kids is (described here: “Stalking texters, sexting monsters: A bit of help”)

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