Online dating: How to keep your teen safe

By:
Bend Health
6/27/2024
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As teenagers enter the dating scene, the majority of their conversations, connections, and even meeting new people can happen online. We know this is a big change from the days of calling a landline to meet up at the mall, but it’s important as a caregiver to keep up with how things have evolved. That’s why we’re here to empower you with knowledge so that you can help your teen safety date online. 

It’s time for the talk 

Have you had the internet safety talk with your teen? It’s important to start an open, honest conversation about online safety from a young age and continue the discussion as your child gets older (but remember that it’s never too late to tackle this topic!). Teach them not to share identifiable or sensitive information, to be wary of downloading files, and to remind them that what goes online stays online.

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Online dating 101

Let’s start off with the basics — popular online dating apps, like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge, require users to be over the age of 18. If your child has these apps on their phone, they may be lying about their age to access them. Be sure to check in to make sure they are abiding by age requirements for any online platform. 

All about catfishing 

Catfishing is when someone uses a fictitious persona online. The goal of a catfisher is typically to mislead someone into an online romantic relationship. For example, your teen might think they are talking to someone on the soccer team at a neighboring high school when it’s actually a child predator in disguise. The catfisher can steal photos from the social media accounts of a real teenager and share details about their life, which makes this fake persona very convincing. We know this may be frightening to think about, but it’s just another reason why it’s so important to teach your teen that ‘stranger danger’ applies just as much to the online world as real life. 

Let’s talk about sexting 

Sexting is defined as the sharing of sexually explicit images, videos, and messages. According to a 2018 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, at least 1 in 4 teens are receiving sexually explicit messages and texts. It’s important to educate your teen that there is never any guarantee that the messages they share privately will stay private. For example, your teen may send explicit images to someone they are romantically involved with, only to have that person share the photos with their group of friends. 

Sexting could also result in a criminal record as It is illegal to distribute child pornography, and someone who’s underage can be charged with a crime even if they are sharing photos of themselves. Your teen’s romantic partner could also be charged with a crime for receiving the images, so remind your child that sending sexually explicit photos of themselves is against the law and not worth the risks and dangers. 

Above all else, encourage them to come to you if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. You can assure them that they will be met with support, not judgment, as being a teenager can be a highly confusing time. 

Know where they are connecting 

There are apps and websites that advertise as being a space for teens to connect, but parents should know that these sites can be very dangerous and attract child predators who impersonate minors. Some common sites include MyLOL, Skout, Yubo, and MeetMe.

For most teens, the majority of their interactions with new people online happen on social media apps, like Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok. While these apps are primarily used to share images and videos with their followers, they also allow teens to message one another and exchange photos and videos privately. Snapchat allows teens to send photos and messages that “disappear,” but there are ways they can be screenshotted or screen-recorded and it’s important for them to know that even messages and photos they send on Snapchat are not safe. 

Let them know that social media can be a great tool for them to stay connected with their friends that they know in real life, but they should be using something other than these platforms as a way to meet new people. 

Find support 

We know trying to keep your teen safe as they start dating can be overwhelming for some parents, but the good news is you don’t have to navigate this alone. With the help of a mental health therapist or coach, your teen can work through all the highs and lows of dating, learn how to establish healthy relationships, and gain tools for safe tech use. 

It’s easy to pretend to be someone else online, so make it clear that they should NEVER  meet up with someone they encounter online.

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