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Teen Dating Apps and Online Safety: What Parents Need to Know

Back when we were teenagers, our pool of potential dating partners was pretty small. Mainly we chose from among our high school classmates, but it was often hard to be interested in someone we knew since third grade. We might have met people through a religious youth group, part-time job, or sports team, or friends at nearby high schools. But even then, we didn’t venture far beyond our own zip code to find dates.

Teenage dating today is a far different story. Today’s teens have more global reach. They can access a world’s worth of potential partners through the internet. Which is exciting … but also scary. Here’s what parents should know about how teens date online.

  TABLE OF CONTENTS:

1. What are the most popular dating apps for kids and teens?
2. Can teens use social media as a dating app?
3. Is online dating safe?
4. Tips for parents to help their teens use dating apps and social media safely.
5. What parents should know about online dating for teens.
6. Additional sources.

What are the most popular dating apps for kids and teens?

Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge are popular among adults and older teens (18+). Younger teens use them, too, but they lie about their age during sign-up. Other apps, like Yubo and MyLOL, are specifically designed for younger teens, though it may be more common for teens to bypass dating apps and instead meet other teens through social apps like TikTok, Instagram, or Discord.

Teen dating apps typically include age verification and chatroom moderation features. However, those measures aren’t 100% foolproof. Offensive material still slips through the filters and people still lie about their age and identity, just like anywhere else online. It’s important to talk to your kids about online safety when interacting with strangers regardless of the platform.

Can teens use social media as a dating app?

Yes, teens can use social media for dating; and they often do. While you might be apprehensive about the thought of your teen dating online, understand that most teens spend A LOT of time on social media. Starting a conversation with someone online is, for them, just a part of life.

But here are a few things to consider when thinking about your teenager’s safety:

  • What does it mean to know someone on social media? It’s fairly easy to check someone’s profile on Instagram. After some deep scrolling, teens might feel they know someone enough to slide into their DMs and build a connection with them.
  • Ask your kids about the people they connect with. Because it’s so easy to connect with someone on social media, ask your kids about people who approach them.
  • Remind your teens that people can assume false identities. On social media sites, that cool kid from the next town over could really be a predator, for example, so it’s important not to share too much personal information, especially at the early stages of getting to know someone.
  • Shield your kids from physical danger. Teach them not to use geotags or otherwise post their locations on their photos and posts. 
  • Discuss online harassment and cyberbullying to help protect your kids from mental anguish, too.

Is online dating safe?

Teens risk being harassed or bullied whenever they go online. Even if you’ve already talked to your kids about how to handle these situations, have another conversation specifically about how to use teen dating apps safely.

Try opening your discussion with curiosity. Ask questions like: Why do you want to have these connections? Are you looking for people who have the same relationship goals as you do? Some teens might want a committed relationship, while others are just hoping for a hookup. Encourage your teen to communicate their expectations early on to avoid disappointment or hurt feelings later.

Keep in mind that no matter how rigorous the screening and oversight are on dating apps for kids, they still risk exposure to inappropriate content or behavior, like being sent links to pornographic media.

One of the biggest risks they will face is meeting someone in real life who they have only known online. It’s so easy for people to misrepresent themselves online by hiding behind a fake persona. If your teen plans to move their online relationship off screen, talk to them about meeting the person in a public place, preferably with at least one friend in tow. 

Sadly, teen dating apps and online social platforms are fertile grounds for predators to groom victims and later exploit them.

Warnings for your teenagers about texting: 

  • Don’t send explicit photos to anyone.
  • Don’t request explicit photos from anyone.
  • Sending or receiving photos of someone who is underage is considered child pornography. Your child could be criminally charged.

Tips for parents to help their teens use dating apps and social media safely.

As today’s teens expand their social circles, it’s practically guaranteed they’ll make social and romantic connections online. You might wonder, is meeting people online dangerous? The answer to that is: sometimes yes, sometimes no. Like meeting people in real life, one of the best things you can do to protect your child is to encourage open conversations and periodically revisit what they’re doing to protect their safety.

Here are some tips for discussing online dating safety with your teenager:

  1. Ask your teen if they or their friends have thought about using any dating apps. Conveying curiosity and a neutral stance might incline  your teen to open up. 
  2. Remind them to never meet a stranger in a private place 
  3. Warn them: Never reveal private information, like home or school address or Social Security number.
  4. Tell them never to send money to an online friend unless they discuss it with you first and you confirm it’s not a scam and you feel like it’s okay to send.
  5. Advise your teen to be cautious about what they share. That great kid they’re opening up to could be an adult posing as a teen or even a teen pretending to be someone else just so they can use shared information to bully or manipulate your teen or someone else later.
  6. Be clear about the danger of sexting and explicit photos.
  7. Put guardrails on social media usage. Consider using parental controls or insist that devices must be used in a common area, especially for younger teens.
  8. Remind your teen that you are always available to listen to their concerns and issues, then do your best to listen without judgment, no matter what the topic is. The more you keep your lines of communication open, the more likely your teen will come to you with issues that arise.

What parents should know about online dating for teens.

If your teen hasn’t yet ventured into the world of online dating, it might just be a matter of time. Teen dating apps and social platforms provide ways for kids to connect to online communities of peers with common interests, which can be especially helpful if your teen is shy in real life or feels isolated or friendless at school. They also provide safe places for teens questioning their gender or sexual identity to express themselves and find support.

Remember that for today’s digital natives, meeting someone online is just as normal as it was for us to hang out at the local pizza place, hoping to catch the eye of our crush. Meeting someone online first might even be safer than meeting a stranger in real life, because it’s possible to check out potential partners online and find friends of friends who can vouch for them or warn your teen away.

Bottom line, it’s natural to be apprehensive about your teen dating online if you’re unfamiliar with how they’re doing it. If you take some time to educate yourself on the various sites and familiarize yourself with their potential risks and safety parameters, you can help your teen use these platforms safely.

Keep the conversation going with your teen and show interest in the people they’re meeting online. Your teen’s online relationships are just as valuable as the ones they have in real life.

FURTHER READING:

Check out some of our most popular articles about teens and dating:

Teen Dating Research: Are Non-Dating Teens Healthier than Dating Peers?
What Parents Need to Know about Teen Dating Violence
Ask the Expert: What Age Should Teenagers Start Dating?
17 Ideas for Teen Dating Discussions

Read these articles for more tips about how to talk to your teen about cyberbullying and online harassment:

Cyberbullying: The Subtle Bullying That Goes Under-the-Radar
Ways To Prevent Cyberbullying: How to Be Kind Online
What Is Sextortion? Keep Teens Safe from Online Predators

We talked to some experts about teen romance. Watch these videos to hear their insights and advice:

What Parents Should Know About Teen Romance
Understanding Teenage Dating Abuse and Technology

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at CathieEricsonWriter.com.

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