Technology can be a great way to stay connected to the world and those around us. We use it to talk, text, order food, and catch up on our favorite shows. When introduced into relationships, the line between healthy and unhealthy can get confusing.

Digital Abuse

1 in 4 teens is harassed through technology. Technology should make us feel connected, not controlled. Digital abuse is using technology like cell phones and social media to mistreat, control, stalk, or intimidate another person.  Red flags for digital abuse can sound like “Who is that girl who liked your picture on Instagram?” or “I should be able to see what’s in your phone if you have nothing to hide.” No matter what it looks like or sounds like, no one deserves to be mistreated online or off.

What Does Digital Abuse Look Like?

  • Texting or calling someone so much it makes them uncomfortable
  • Stealing or insisting to be given passwords to another person’s phone or social media accounts
  • Telling someone who they can and can’t be friends with online
  • Sending unwanted photos or messages
  • Pressuring someone to send sexually explicit photos or messages (sexting)
  • Threatening to share private photos or messages
  • Reading texts or messages without permission
  • Using social media to constantly keep tabs on someone
  • Putting another person down on social media
  • Sending threatening or insulting messages

Healthy Digital Boundaries

Just like it’s important to discuss physical and emotional boundaries in a relationship, it’s important to talk about digital boundaries too. You should be able to communicate your boundaries without being afraid of how your partner will respond and know that your boundaries will be respected. Healthy digital boundaries look like:

Discussing & Respecting Boundaries

In a healthy relationship, partners should trust each other and respect personal boundaries. Do you prefer not to text when spending time with friends or family? Are you ok with texting each other all day? By discussing and respecting boundaries, you gain a better understanding of each other’s comfort levels and create mutual respect. Are you not sure what your partner’s digital boundaries are? Talk about it!

Keeping Passwords Private

You should feel able to share things with your partner, but it’s also ok to keep some things private – including your phone or social media passwords. If you do share passwords, discuss the boundaries that come with them. Can they use your phone passcode to play games on your phone? Can they check your Instagram DM’s to get the address to the party you’re going to together? Remember, if someone shares a password with you, it is a sign of trust and by using their password in ways they haven’t consented to is unhealthy and a violation of trust.

Holding Yourself Accountable

Being in a relationship with someone doesn’t give you the right to go through their phone or know what they are doing every minute of the day. You should never pressure or guilt trip your partner to send messages or photos they are not comfortable sending. You should also respect your partner’s privacy by not asking for passcodes or passwords to build trust or to ensure they aren’t cheating. If your relationship lacks trust or honesty, it may be a red flag that the relationship is unhealthy.

What to Do if You’ve Experienced Digital Abuse

Here are a few safety planning steps you can take if your digital boundaries aren’t being respected or you’ve experience abuse.

  • Save or documents any threatening messages, photos, videos, or voicemails you have received as evidence of abuse.
  • Be careful with sending pictures or messages you do not want others to see. Once you share a post or message it is no longer in your control. Be mindful that an abusive partner may save or forward anything you share.
  • Know and understand privacy settings. Social media often has customizable privacy settings that allows you to control who tags you in photos, who can send you messages or friend requests, and allows you to block other users on the site.
  • Be mindful when checking in online, either by sharing your location in a post or posting a photo with distinguishable backgrounds. Ask friends to get your consent before posting a photo or tagging your location online.
  • Avoid contact with the person who is abusing or harassing you in the ways you are able to. Consider changing your phone number or your name on social media if the abuse and harassment don’t stop.


Even though no relationship is perfect, your relationships should make you feel good – building you up instead of tearing you down. It should make you feel happy, safe, and supported, and abuse should never be a part of it.  If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship and is seeking help or support, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat with an advocate through Love is Respect by texting LOVEIS to 22522. If you are in the Hays/Caldwell county area, call HCWC at 512-396-HELP(4357)

Unsure if your relationship is healthy? Learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationships here.


  • Kiara Nicholson

    Kiara is a full-time cat lady with a passion for social justice. At HCWC, she is the Primary Prevention Coordinator – facilitating conversations with adolescents and adults on fostering healthier relationships and ways to make the world a safer, more equitable place. Kiara is a proud alum of Texas State University where she received her bachelor’s degree in Applied Sociology. Her passions include social change, youth activism, LGBTQ activism, and crafting. She doesn’t like taking pictures, but she does love Bitmojis.

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