Teenage girls more affected than boys by sexting and 'digital abuse'
Social workers and psychologists say teens experience digital dating abuse at similar rates, but girls are more negatively affected by sexting.
Two leading experts, professor of social work Richard Tolman and professor of psychology L. Monique Ward, have claimed that both teenage girls and boys expect to experience some form of 'digital abuse' in dating, but girls suffer more severe emotional consequences.
Researchers from the University of Michigan and University of California-Santa Barbara have carried out a survey on the impact of gender on teens' experiences of digital dating abuse, including the use of mobile phones to harass, control, pressure or threaten a boyfriend or girlfriend.
The survey of 703 students asked teens how often they experiences several problematic digital behaviours, including being pressured to sext (sending a sexual or naked photo), receiving threatening messages, or being 'spied' on by having their whereabouts and activities monitored without permission.
Girls indicated more frequent digital sexual coercion, but both male and female teens reported equal rates of digital monitoring and control, and direct digital aggression. When confronted with direct aggression, such as threats and rumour spreading, girls responded by blocking communication with their other half. Boys responded in similar fashion when they experienced digital monitoring and control behaviours, the findings showed.
Lauren Reed, the study's lead author and a project scientist at University of California-Santa Barbara, says that although teens experience digital dating abuse at similar rates, girls reported that they were more upset by these behaviours and also reported more negative emotional responses:
"Although digital dating abuse is potentially harmful for all youth, gender matters."
The survey's teen participants reported sending and receiving at least 51 text messages per day, and spending an average of 22 hours per week using social media. Most reported that they text/texted their current or most recent boyfriend or girlfriend frequently.
Dr Richard Tolman, who works in the area of violent and abusive behaviour, says that boys often treat girls as sexual objects - which contributes to the higher rates of digital sexual coercion - as boys may feel entitled to have sexual power over girls. Tolman states that girls, on the other hand, are expected to prioritise relationships, which can lead to more jealousy and possessiveness and make them more likely to monitor boys' activities.