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New TikTok trend raises awareness about emotional abuse in teen dating

While girls dancing to toxic voicemails seems odd, it is raising awareness of partner abuse in teen relationships.
/ Source: TODAY

A new trend has emerged on TikTok that might cause some to scratch their heads while others are praising it. In the videos, girls dance to an unusual soundtrack: Toxic voicemails left by abusive boyfriends or exes. The juxtaposition of dancing and degrading language might seem odd, but the videos show how pervasive emotional and verbal abuse can be in teen dating.

“Abuse doesn’t only happen to children who had no good role model of love,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert, told TODAY Parents. “One third of teens will experience abuse of some kind.”

Many applaud the girls for exposing their abusive partners by literally airing the awful messages. Gilboa says publicly sharing stories about partner abuse helps victims find supporters and reinforces their feelings that something was wrong about the behaviors.

“It validates what they are experiencing. They see, ‘Hey this is not OK,’” she explained. “When they open themselves up looking for validation, peer support occurs, and it’s good for them.”

But when people leave nasty comments or blame the victims for ruining their relationships, it can be damaging.

“What they get is the opposite of validation,” she said. “It can be dangerous.”

But Gilboa says the videos serve as an example to others about what abusive language sounds like. This could perhaps help other teens realize they’re in a bad relationship and need to get out. The controlling, disrespectful language sticks out in the messages and this is a clear warning sign that something’s amiss in a relationship.

“If someone wants to express their anger with you they should say it in a way that feels respectful,” Gilboa said.

People should be wary of “you should,” “you must” or “you can’t” statements because it indicates a person is trying to be controlling in a relationship instead of showing concern. Saying “you’re worried when someone drives late at night” shows normal worry where saying “you can’t drive at night” shows controlling tendencies.

“When they say, ‘If you love me you won’t do this’ or ‘Don't do that,’ actually what they are doing is taking control in a way that is not love,” she explained. “It can be difficult for anyone, especially young people, to differentiate love from control.”

While Gilboa doesn't think that public humiliation will change the abusive teens behaviors, she thinks that the videos can serve as good examples for others.

“It isn’t going to stop someone who feels that ownership is the only way to love,” she said. “It is really valuable for young people to see their peers saying love doesn’t mean ownership.”

If you or someone you know is or has been in an abusive relationship you can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for additional resources and support.