Comment: You may think that the Americans are over reacting here. I tend to think these problems are very real and teenagers just do not discuss them with parents or teachers for fear of embarrassment. MXit is very good platform to start offering peer counselling. And hopefully in the near future between ourselves, CSIR and Childline this will become a realityRamon Thomas

A national education campaign and phone hotline to curb abusive teen dating behavior goes into effect today, prompted by new research that suggests teens and technology sometimes make for troublesome connections.

The campaign launches with an interactive teen website ( and a 24-hour hotline (866-331-9474) funded with $1 million over three years by Liz Claiborne Inc. as part of the company’s ongoing effort to end domestic violence. The hotline will be operated by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a 10-year-old, confidential, 24-hour service in Austin.

The new research, commissioned by Claiborne, was conducted in December by Teenage Research Unlimited. The online survey of 615 teens 13 to 18 found cellphones and the Internet make it easier for teens to be intimidated and emotionally abused without their parents’ knowledge.

Of those surveyed, 382 said they have been in a relationship. Among those who ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend:

•18.6% said a boyfriend or girlfriend spread rumors about them using a cellphone, e-mail, instant messaging, text, Web chat, blog or social networking site.

•18.1% said information posted on a social networking site was used to harass or put them down.

•24.6% said a cellphone, e-mail, instant message, Web chat or blog were used to put them down or say “really mean things.”

Young people fear that no one will believe them, and they must see the person who has been controlling, manipulating or otherwise abusing them every day in school, says Sheryl Cates of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which fields more than 18,000 calls a month; about 10% are from teens.

Although much dating abuse can be emotional, 2005 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 9% of U.S. students had been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the previous year. The CDC last year launched an initiative to reduce dating violence and promote healthy relationships.

Kendrick Sledge, 19, a Boston University sophomore from Upper Arlington, Ohio, says she was in an abusive relationship in her freshman year of high school and didn’t know any better. “I had no clue this was actually a problem and wasn’t just happening to me,” she says of her first relationship.

Teens often don’t know how to handle intimacy and conflict because they see “very poor messages” in the media and in music videos, says David Wolfe, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He is not involved with the hotline or campaign.

“Girls don’t recognize an abusive situation,” he says. “They think that’s what love is: ‘He’s jealous and watches me closely.’ ”

The margin of error for teen responses in the Claiborne-commissioned study is plus or minus 4 percentage points; for teens who have had a relationship, it’s plus or minus 5 percentage points.

This article is republished from USA Today.