Adolescents on dating apps are more likely to experience electronic dating violence than their young adult counterparts, a University of Michigan study from October found.

Electronic dating violence is described as violence between dating partners that is carried out through electronic devices and can lead to many negative outcomes, including a greater likelihood of substance abuse and in-person dating violence. 

The study, led by Public Health doctoral student Elyse Thulin, found that dating violence increases through the years for adolescents until they reach about 16 or 17 years of age.

The study focused on two main age cohorts — one group made up of 12 to 15-year-olds and the other made up of 15 to 18-year-olds. These groups were surveyed annually from 2013 to 2017 via questionnaires, where topics like dating behaviors, drug and alcohol use and monitoring (parental or otherwise) were evaluated.

It was found that in the younger cohort, the percent of adolescents that experience electronic dating violence generally increases over time. In the older cohort, however, an increase in electronic dating violence is seen at first, before leveling off and then dropping.

Justin Heinze, assistant professor of health behavior & health education in the School of Public Health, noted that these behaviors are very common but are often overlooked.

“In school, you can think about things like interpersonal violence, and a lot of people will be drawn to things like school shootings that garner a lot of media attention,” Heinze said. “But intimate partner violence,specifically the kind that could happen online can be very invisible.”

Early experiences with dating behaviors and child abuse were found to be contributing factors to electronic dating violence, while increased parental monitoring at certain times in development was found to decrease risk.

In an email to The Michigan Daily, Sarah Peitzmeier, assistant professor of nursing, elaborated on the severity of electronic dating violence. Peitzmeier is currently collaborating with Thulin on a new study about electronic partner violence in adults in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(Electronic dating violence) can be even more pervasive than in-person forms of dating violence for youth, who are generally not living with their partners,” Peitzmeier wrote. “Electronic violence can continue unabated, with the abusive partner able to reach them 24/7 through the phone or internet.” 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Thulin talked about her experiences abroad and how they piqued her interest in this topic and age group.

“I ended up back in Kenya to do my master’s research, and I really wanted to study how adolescents were receiving sexual health education,” Thulin said. “As we get older and closer to adulthood, there’s more autonomy associated with that … I think it’s just a really important and interesting age to study for those reasons.”

In Kenya, child rearing traditions are very different than they are in the United States, according to Thulin. She explained that her previous research showed that grandparent caregivers found it difficult to navigate the electronic space with their grandchildren due to generational differences.

“In Kenya, there is a substantial number of adolescents being raised by grandparents,” Thulin said. “Parents might not raise their kids if their work opportunity is somewhere else, (and) it’s culturally normative, also, to send your kids to spend time with extended family, particularly during school breaks.”

Thulin said the severity of electronic dating violence can be concerning for many caregivers and those in positions of authority for pre-adolescent children. While the internet can be a great tool for education, she emphasized how harmful it can be in inappropriate settings.

“The electronic space is really influencing how we transmit information,” Thulin said. “Particularly about sexual health (and) how we connect to one another on dating and things like that.”

Thulin encouraged greater awareness in virtual spaces about online violence.

“Online interactions have effects — direct and indirect — and they can be acute and they can be long term,” Thulin said. “I would encourage people to be gentle with themselves and to each other, across both online and in-person spaces, with the hope that we can try to reduce the violence that’s occurring in the world.”

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