Electronic aggression and dating: Where does the anger come from?

Kids today are wired, and that doesn’t mean they’re drinking a lot of coffee. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), over 60 percent of adolescents aged 13 to 17 belong to at least one social network site.

While AACAP reports that this can actually have benefits – something a 2012 study by child advocacy organization Common Sense Media also found – there are also pitfalls. Aside from child predators and the risk of revealing too much personal information, there’s the ever-present specter of electronic aggression, more commonly known as “cyberbullying.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the phrase “electronic aggression” describes a wide variety of harassing and bullying behaviors that occur through electronic means – emails, chat rooms, texts and so on. This also includes electronic dating violence.

Sadly, dating violence – which can be emotional, physical, psychological and sexual – is somewhat common among adolescents. A CDC survey from 2011 reported that over 20 percent of females and nearly 15 percent of males who ever experienced stalking, violence or rape first experienced it from a partner between the ages of 11 and 17. Meanwhile, a later CDC survey reported that 10 percent of high school students reported being the victim of sexual violence from their partner in the 12 months before being surveyed.

So what makes kids engage in these behaviors?

Background is a key factor in dating violence

A recent study from a team of researchers at Wayne State University in Michigan examined that same question. Appearing in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the researchers examined survey data from over 700 middle and high school students who’d dated in the past year.

The results showed that subjects who had involved parents and felt safe in their communities had lower rates of electronic dating aggression; meanwhile, the subjects who’d had adverse childhood experiences showed higher rates. It’s a finding similar to the findings of an earlier study done at the University of Michigan (UM).

In that study, researchers surveyed groups of adolescents and young adults aged 14 to 20 from two neighborhoods in Flint, Michigan, who had used a hospital emergency room. After analyzing the survey results, the researchers found:

  • 96 percent of their subjects had reported being exposed to violence in their communities
  • 44 percent had either been subject to – or engaged in – dating violence
  • 48 percent had reported having experienced electronic dating aggression

“We found that technology-delivered dating aggression, or TDA, was prevalent among high-risk urban youth, and that it was highly associated with neighborhood violence exposure – for example, hearing gunshots, seeing drug deals, seeing someone get shot or stabbed,” said study co-author Quyen Epstein-Ngo, Ph.D., in a UM press release. “It was also very strongly related to physical dating violence.”

What to look for

Exposure to violence, whether via media, in the home or in the community, is one of the factors that increase a child’s risk of exhibiting violent behavior. Other factors include being the victim of abuse from peers or others, using drugs (including alcohol) and the presence of firearms in the home. ACAAP also provides warning signs of violence in children, including:

  • Being frustrated easily
  • Frequent outbursts of uncontrolled temper
  • Intense anger, irritability and/or impulsive behavior

AACAP further advises parents to seek out help from a qualified mental health professional if they’re concerned about their children being violent.

It can be easy to view mental illness as simply bad teen behavior, but don’t be fooled – problems such as aggression can be dangerous for both the aggressive teen as well as others. If left untreated, an aggressive teen can make further bad decisions, hurt others and face consequences, which can include jail.

Many teens benefit from professional intervention. White River Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for boys aged 12 to 17 in rural Utah. The school’s caring, stable environment allows its students to learn more about themselves and their relationships with others, and how to move past their problems into a happier, more productive life. If you’re concerned about your son and think he can benefit from our programs, please call our 24/7 helpline.

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