Patti Skelton-McGougan | It’s 3 a.m. Do you know who’s texting your teen?


Chances are you don’t know it’s occurring at all.

First of all, teenagers aren’t likely to tell their parents if they’re being stalked, controlled or otherwise abused in a dating relationship. And teens’ widespread use of technology – cell phones, Internet and social networking sites – not only makes it easier for abusers to track and harass their partners. It also makes it easier than ever to conceal such abuse from parents and other adults.

According to a recent study by Liz Claiborne Inc. on tech abuse in teen relationships, one in four teens in relationships say they have been called names or harassed by their partner through cell phone calls and text messages.

The same study found that most parents weren’t aware that their children’s dating partners were checking up on their children through repeated cell phone calls, e-mails and text messages, sometimes into the wee hours.

Tech abuse can take several other forms including:

Harassment, threats and name-calling in text and instant messages and on Web pages and social networking sites.

Posting the victim’s personal information or private photos.

Tracking someone through computer spyware and even Global Positioning System devices installed in cell phones.

What’s been called “digital dating violence” can be every bit as frightening and destructive as the real thing, particularly when you consider that cyber abusers often have had a relationship with the victim and use technology as another tool for control and manipulation. Furthermore, what starts in cyberspace can easily move to something physical.

Here at Youth Eastside Services, we help about 3,000 youth a year through our Teen Dating Violence Prevention program, which includes training and education in Eastside schools. We also reach teens through our RESPECT Program, which trains teens to recognize the warning signs of dating violence and to spread that awareness to their peers.

I know it’s easy to feel powerless as a parent of a teen who’s started to date. But there are some things you can do to keep your child safe, both online and off:

Foster an open and supportive relationship with your children so they know they can come to you for help.

Avoid putting your child in the position of defending a relationship. Instead ask questions (Are you afraid? Do you want to spend more time with your other friends?) that will help her come to her own conclusions.

Encourage your teen to have a safety plan and people they can call for help. This may include devising an emergency signal, telling school staff and talking to friends.

Talk to your children about how they use social networks like MySpace and Facebook. Teens shouldn’t post anything they don’t want public, including phone numbers, addresses and schedules, and photos they wouldn’t want people to see. Passwords should be difficult to guess and never shared.

Educate your teen about online dangers, including communicating with people they don’t know and opening suspicious attachments. Encourage them to report any harassment, hate speech or inappropriate content.

If you suspect that your child is the perpetrator of abuse, talk with him or her about your concerns, debunking myths and making it clear that violence is never acceptable. If abuse occurs, consider professional counseling for victims and perpetrators.

‘Parenting Lifeline’ is a monthly column in Reporter newspapers by Patti Skelton-McGougan, executive director of Youth Eastside Services. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering counseling, outreach and prevention programs to help foster strong family relationships and a safe community. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to HYPERLINK “” o “”