Teen dating violence in the digital age

The Means Report - Teen Dating Violence In The Digital Age graphic
The Means Report – Teen Dating Violence In The Digital Age graphic

Augusta, GA (WJBF) – “The Means Report” takes a look at what teenagers face when they are out and about in the real world, when we as parents and caregivers cannot watch them. Teen dating violence, in particular. You know, it is not like the movies. You see these portrayals of young couples and everything seems so perfect and happy on the big screen. But as you all know, that is not how it is in real life. So we will check the warning signs and symptoms of teen dating violence and look at ways that you can keep the young person in your life safe.

Brad Means: Welcome back to the Means Report. Continuing our Teen Talk series today with a look at teen dating and teen dating violence. Some of the issues that your young people could be facing right now. And to help us navigate those waters the youth development director at SafeHomes, Erica Powers, has been kind enough to join us. Erica, thanks, as I said to Dr. Lillard, to you for what you do for our young people and thanks for being here.

Erica Powers: Thank you for having me.

Brad Means: You’re welcome. All right, so teen dating violence. Nearly one and a half million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner. So it is out there and it is happening. My first question is, is this a high school thing, a college thing? What age should we, as the grown ups, start looking to see, okay, something could be going on now with my child?

Erica Powers: Well our teen dating violence… Our statistics run from age 12 to 24, so all of adolescence.

Brad Means: Is it more prevalent with middle school, high school, or college, or do you just see it across the board?

Erica Powers: You usually see it across the board. More so the ninth through 12th grade and then the early college years.

Brad Means: Kids don’t talk about stuff sometimes and I would imagine that this is one of those topics that they internalize. Do you find that to be true?

Erica Powers: Yes, we go to different schools, different organizations and churches. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want, really at that age, to talk about anything. So getting into the schools… One of our main things is to just open their eyes that this is what this is. This is what you’re experiencing.

Brad Means: All right, so to the viewers who are trying to picture teen dating violence, does this mean that one person is beating up another person?

Erica Powers: No, not always. It can be physical, of course, emotional and verbal, even social, such as the digital, electronic stalking.

Brad Means: Yeah, and I wanna talk about that. All right, so let’s look at it from two perspectives, the parents and the kids. Parents, what do we need to look out for in our home, when our child goes out on or comes home from a date, that might be a red flag?

Erica Powers: First of all, the behavior of the child. The same thing as Dr. Lillard had said, the change of pattern. When they start dating someone if this is an abusive relationship, they will change the person that they are for that person.

Brad Means: How about the father of a daughter? Should he trust his gut when he opens that door and sees that boy and thinks, “Man, something’s just not right.” Should he trust that deeply?

Erica Powers: My personal opinion, yes.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Erica Powers: I know my dad would.

Brad Means: Sure.

Erica Powers: So…

Brad Means: And a lot of times they have that sense where they can tell–

Erica Powers: Right.

Brad Means: Something’s just not right. All right, so for the young people. How do you know that this is something that’s crossed the line, this is something that doesn’t seem right? How do you know you’ve reached that point?

Erica Powers: Well there’s always boundaries you want to establish in any relationship. But some warning signs of a potential dangerous relationship are erratic mood swings, one person may be extremely jealous or insecure, they want to be around their partner at all times. They’re constantly checking up on them, checking their phone, their social media.

Brad Means: Let me ask you about that. It’s okay to love someone and be in a relationship with them, but where does it meet the threshold of obsession or possessiveness? The reason I ask is this, and not to ask you the world’s longest question. But my son had his arm around a girl the other day. And my instinct was to say, “Hey man, “let’s limit the PDA.” But at the same time I thought, “I don’t “wanna kill the guy’s passion.” He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but when does he cross that line when it’ like, “Okay, you’re going too far.”

Erica Powers: Sometimes it does get excessive. Everyone needs their time to themselves. Every teen has their friend group, things that they’re interested in, activities at school, churches. They need that time apart. So as parents, if you see that your teen is spending way too much time with their significant other, say something. Your teen may, and possibly will, get upset but it’s our role as parents to say something.

Brad Means: Talk more about emotional abuse. Physical abuse is clear to see, clear to notice for the most part, but what are some emotional… Some ways that one can emotionally abuse another, as a young person?

Erica Powers: The biggest thing in schools is spreading rumors.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Erica Powers: If there’s a breakup and it’s not so clean cut, one partner can easily spread rumors about the other and they could possibly lose their friends. There’s just a wide variety of things that can stem from that one rumor.

Brad Means: And I want you to talk more about, if you will, digital dating abuse and the use of technology. The use of these things that we all have to abuse another. What have you seen out there?

Erica Powers: So every teen that I have been in contact with has some kind of cell phone or access to the internet and it could start as easily as a text. And it starts… Cyber bullying, that is a form of dating abuse if it is within a relationship.

Brad Means: We had a Juvenile Court judge, Doug Flannagan, on last time and he told me to always monitor my children’s phones and their texts. Would you agree with that?

Erica Powers: I would.

Brad Means: But what about parents who feel like they’re spying? They’re violating their child’s trust.

Erica Powers: Well, you’re a parent and it’s your job to make sure that your child is safe and taken care of and not doing something that they’re not supposed to do.

Brad Means: Do you see a lot of sexting and inappropriate texting going on that definitely crosses the line?

Erica Powers: Of course, and the teen that is receiving these unwanted, unsolicited messages, they don’t want to speak up because they don’t wanna be at the pit of their social group.

Brad Means: Why do girls send nude picture of themselves? Why is that a thing now?

Erica Powers: I believe that it’s about self-esteem. It may boost their self-esteem, make them feel more wanted. Because as Dr. Lillard had said, it’s a time where teens are figuring out who they are, what they are and what they’re gonna do with their lives. And it has a lot to do with their self-esteem.

Brad Means: How do parents remedy that? Love their children harder? Lift them up more?

Erica Powers: I wouldn’t say that that would exactly fix it, but you always have to have somewhere to start. So tell your kid, “You did a great job.” Their friend groups have a lot to do with that. Their friend groups need to be supportive. You need to always surround yourself with people that always have your back.

Brad Means: I was gonna ask you about that. That can play a key role, that support system, right?

Erica Powers: Mmhmm.

Brad Means: And so is that our role as parents to help you choose your friends? You remember being a high school student not too long ago. Should we have a hand in who you hang out with?

Erica Powers: I don’t think so. I should… Parents, if anything, should have a say so in who you don’t hang out with. If they, like you said, that gut feeling that someone you’re hanging around just isn’t the best person. As parents, we should step up and say, “Hey, do you think that there’s something that’s just not quite right about this person?”

Brad Means: Let me run something else by you that I talked about yesterday with my executive producer, Marlena. This Find My Friends, and I’m sure I’m not saying the right names, but there’s all sorts of apps where you can tell where someone is 24-7. “Look, Erica’s at Channel 6 right now. “Let’s go to Channel 6 and be with Erica.” Do you like those things or dislike those things because that could play into someone who wanted to stalk someone, right?

Erica Powers: Correct, the location services on these apps today are very dangerous. You can be found by anyone, anywhere, even if you don’t know them or don’t want them finding you. So they are very dangerous and in my opinion, no app should have any kind of location services.

Brad Means: What about a young person telling another young person I love you? Is that okay?

Erica Powers: To an extent.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Erica Powers: Now I wouldn’t be okay with my 12 year old daughter saying that to her significant other.

Brad Means: Right.

Erica Powers: So there comes a time where as parents I guess we would see it as acceptable, but definitely not someone that they just met yesterday.

Brad Means: Yeah, I saw my first I love you a couple of years ago and I was like, “Wait a second, come on man! “Pump the breaks there.” Why did you decide to do this? Probably my last question. What made you… What motivated you to get into a field where you’re making such a difference in young people’s lives when they’re in their darkest hour?

Erica Powers: Right, well, I have two brothers and they are both still teens. So, totally different people. My oldest brother, he’s 18, he has one of those personalities where he cares about himself, does what he needs to do and that’s just about it.

Brad Means: Sure.

Erica Powers: And then my youngest brother is 16 and he’s a very caring and, kind of a motherly instinct compared to my oldest brother. So with my brothers I saw the youngest one get hurt way too many times. And I worked with troubled teens and with kids at risk. And it was just my passion to try and help these teens to give them someone to talk to. Someone that they feel like, cares, and that they can trust. ‘Cause a lot of teens distrust adults because they feel like if I tell them, they’re not gonna believe me. So that was my thing, I wanna give them someone that they can trust and that will believe them.

Brad Means: Well I can’t thank you enough for what you do. You come across as someone that can be trusted and I know that you’re a hit with young people. Erica Powers, thank you so much.

Erica Powers: Thank you.

Brad Means: Find an Erica Powers in your child’s life, somebody that they can go to and talk to. SafeHomes is always available for you. There’s their website and phone number, both toll free and local. They are a wonderful resource as we’ve been telling you for years here at Channel 6 – SafeHomes.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.