iPhone App Simulates Teen Dating Abuse

Parents may think they understand what it’s like to be a teenager today, but they’ve never experienced their teen’s technological life first hand. Until now.

The Love is Not Abuse iPhone app is giving parents a taste of digital relationship abuse. While mobile technology has become more widespread, it has also led to new forms of abuse especially for teens in bad relationships.

The app, launched by Liz Claibourne’s Love is Not Abuse campaign, places parents in the positions of their teenage children — texting, emailing and calling from a fictional abusive “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” These fake messages pose situations common in digital abuse, like threatening to remove friends from social networks or to post illicit photos. While the app does not actually access the user’s Facebook account, parents get a taste of the controlling nature of a negative teen relationship.

Digital abuse is a rapidly growing trend. Nearly 24% of American teens have been a victim of technology abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend and more than 50% know someone who’s been victimized, according to a Liz Claibourne Inc. and Futures Without Violence 2009 Teen Dating Abuse survey

The app trains parents to recognize characteristics of abusive relationships. Psychotherapist Dr. Jill Murray, a contributor to the app’s development, says most parents can’t properly identify the warning signs of dating abuse. “The main point of the app is to get parents talking to their teens. While most parents discuss drugs, alcohol and sex with their kids, only slightly more than half discuss dating abuse.”

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Dr. Murray says teens, especially girls, misinterpret texts sent in the middle of the night as signs of affectionate attention. Oftentimes, this overbearing communication can be a sign of relationship abuse. “When a child is being abused, the first thing is they don’t know that they’re being abused,” Murray says.

Other warning signs include when a teen constantly checks his or her phone at the dinner table, becomes frantic at the thought of disconnecting for 15 minutes, has unexplained scratches or bruises, stops spending time with friends and family or starts making excuses for a significant other’s bad behavior.

The simulator is geared towards the specific characteristics of abusive males and females. The threatening messages come from a “boyfriend” and the excessive contact is from a “girlfriend.”

Dr. Murray encourages parents to check their children’s phone bills, doubting most parents realize their children may send up to 18,000 texts each month.”I’m a really big advocate that the cell phone belongs to the parent. If you are suspicious or concerned you absolutely can put up your hands and say “Give me your phone.””

Before launching the app, the Love is Not Abuse campaign created school curricula and provided resources for parents on their website. The app is their first platform specifically targeting technology abuse.

Do you think this simulator can help parents understand how their teens communicate? Let us know in the comments below.

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