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How To Help Your Teens Stay Safe When They Start Dating Online

In the 80’s, train stations and church groups were the key places to meet boys. And despite the fact I tried very hard to keep this side of my life well away from my parents, I know for a fact that they worried!! Well, some things have clearly changed with social media and dating apps providing unlimited opportunities for teens to connect with romantic partners across the world. But one thing definitely hasn’t changed – parents are still worrying!! 

Are All Teens Meeting Partners Online? 

Despite what we may think, school is still the main place teens find their romantic partners according to a fascinating research study entitled: ‘Adolescents’ Partner Search in the Digital Age: Correlates and Characteristics of Relationships Initiated Online’. But second to this is the internet. The internet (including social media) even trumps ‘friends, parties and neighbourhoods’ as the 2nd most common place where adolescents meet their significant other.  

Interestingly, the report also highlights the different types of kids who gravitate towards online dating. According to the research, girls who find it harder to fit in at school were more likely to initiate and find romantic relationships online rather than pursue them in person. This was the same for teens looking to pursue same-sex relationships. Overall, there were multiple examples of how the internet has become a ‘social intermediary’ for teens who may struggle with in-person social connection. 

Should I Be Worried? Is It Safe? 

I want to make it very clear that this post isn’t designed to scare you or have you immediately remove all devices from your teen – although I get why it’s tempting! Instead, I want to help you, help your kids navigate online dating.  

By now, we all know that there are both challenges and risks being online. Some of us navigate these with ease while others don’t. In my opinion, a teen’s ability to think critically, pick up social cues and manage conflict will have a direct impact on their ability to navigate their online life and that includes online dating. 

So, yes there are risks – your teen may experience harassment, discrimination, sextortion, scams or cyberstalking. And of course, these are big heavy possibilities that no-one wants their child to experience. But you have to remember that for our kids, meeting someone online is just as normal as it was for my friends and I to meet boys at the local train station. In fact, it may even be less overwhelming as they can ‘google’ potential love matches and find friends of friends who can vouch for them or warn them away. 

Instead of being worried, focus on helping your teen have a positive and safe online dating experience. 

How To Set Your Teens Up For Success 

It’s completely natural to be hesitant about your teen dating online – I’ve been there! And yes, talking about their budding love life may be a bit uncomfortable. But, when there are some pretty large risks at play, you’re just going to have to push through on the awkwardness. Here are my top tips: 

1. Research 

Take some time to research the various dating sites. Read the reviews, browse the community guidelines and understand how they verify users. The larger dating sites are for over 18s – think Hinge, Bumble and Tinder however let’s keep it real – it’s not that hard to ‘fudge’ your age. So even if your teen is under 18, I’d still do some due diligence here. In recent years, under 18 dating sites have cropped up. Mylol, the self-proclaimed “#1 teen network in the world”, is probably the most popular platform followed by Skout.   

But traditional dating sites are not the only way teens meet potential love interests online. It’s not uncommon for kids to start messaging other kids whose profile they may have come across on Snapchat, Discord or even while gaming on Fortnite. You may have heard the expression ‘slide into your DMs’ – that means that someone has sent you a direct message on social media, most commonly for romantic purposes!! 

2. Communication 

Once you understand how it all works – you’ll be able to speak with more ‘weight’ to your teen. So, push through the awkwardness and start talking. If there is a lot of pushback from your teen, you might need to go slow. Why not share articles about online dating? Or, relay stories and experiences from your friends and their kids? Always reserve judgment and stay calm and neutral. Why not help them work out what they want by asking open and non-judgemental questions e.g. Is it a committed relationship or just a ‘fling’? This may help them work out the best platform and also manage their expectations. 

3. Encourage Boundaries 

Once the awkwardness has gone, you should start talking about healthy relationship boundaries. It’s important they understand how to set parameters, so they are safe and respected. They need to know that: 

  • They can turn their phone off – they don’t need to be available 24/7 
  • It is ok to say no to inappropriate requests or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable  
  • They don’t have to respond immediately, or ever, to every text message and post 
  • You should always feel respected and safe in all relationships, both online or offline 

4. Focus on Safety 

There are also some key safety measures that will help protect them when they embark on online dating. I love reminding my boys of these – fingers crossed they listen!! 

  • Keep your logins and passwords to yourself. Ensure the password is unique for every online account. And remember it also needs to be complex – 8-10 characters with a mix of symbols, characters and numbers. 
  • Don’t send explicit photos to anyone – no matter how much you like them! Check out my recent article on Sextortion for why. 
  • Don’t request explicit photos from anyone. Remember, sending or receiving nude photographs of anyone under 18 is considered child pornography. You could be charged.  
  • Never meet a stranger in a private place. Always tell someone where you are going and have a plan in case the meeting doesn’t go to plan. 
  • Never share private information like your home address, the name of your school or your social security or Medicare numbers. No exceptions.  
  • Be careful what you share in conversations. Not everyone is who they say they are online. Your new love interest may in fact be a scammer or someone trying to extract information to bully or manipulate you later. 
  • Don’t send money to new online friends. If you are unsure, run the scenario past a trusted friend or better still, a parent. 

I’m a big believer that being proactive is a very worthwhile parenting strategy. So, ‘ripping off the bandaid’ and helping your teens with their online dating strategy is a great way to set them up for a safe and positive experience. We all know from experience that the path to true love isn’t always linear, so there might be a few heartbreaks or dramas along the way. So, remind your teen that you are always available to listen to their concerns and help them troubleshoot a situation. Remember, the more you keep the lines of communication open, the more likely they will be to come to you if there is an issue. 

Happy digital parenting!! 

Alex x 

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