Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Flirting, dating (and, yes, even "hooking up") are a lot easier to do in the digital age. Today, downloading a dating app, like the most well-known one--Tinder--takes no more than a moment, and suddenly you have a whole world of possible "dates" at your fingertips. Many of these dating apps have found an eager and enthusiastic user base amongst teens, with new apps popping up regularly.
ONLINE DATING AND RELATIONSHIPS: HOW TO KEEP KIDS SAFE
While apprehensive about online dangers in general, U.S. parents are also becoming increasingly aware and concerned about the kinds of digital relationships their teens are having. According to Pew Research:
Aided by the convenience and constant access provided by mobile devices, especially smartphones, 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly. In fact, the number of 18-24 year-olds college age students using online or mobile dating apps has increased nearly fourfold over the past three years (from 5% to 22%), and 15% of adults use consider them a legitimate way to meet someone.
By the time most of kids are teens, they’re practically experts at forging digital friendships, sometimes making the progression to online dating a natural next step. As a result, more young people use mobile and digital dating apps than any other age group.
ONE IN FOUR TEENS HAVE DATED OR HOOKED UP WITH SOMEONE THEY MET FIRST WITH ONLINE
For today's teens, social media and modern tech play a huge role in how teens are meeting, communicating and breaking up. Mobile devices provide freedom for teens to test boundaries, meet people outside of their peer group and attempt to feel and appear more mature—often without a parent peering over the shoulder.
This means parents need to keep an open line of communication with their kids about digital friendships and later, romance.
"One of the biggest issues I see over and over as a lawyer,” says Streaming Lawyer, Mitch Jackson, “is when it comes to teens engaging with each other and developing new ‘digital relationships,’ this ease of use and perceived social acceptance causes many teens to fail to appreciate the potential safety risks and long-term privacy consequences as they relate to their digital interactions and dating efforts. Lives are being turned upside down with a quick tap or swipe of a finger."
A teen’s privacy isn’t the only worry, though. Broadcasting their physical location to strangers is a concern too.
Online relationship and sexting expert, Dr. Michelle Drouin, warns, “As with all online daters, teen online daters need to be very cautious when chatting or meeting with people they don’t know. I would be especially wary of my teen using any apps that use geo-location to make matches.”
Here’s why: In 2012, in three separate incidents underage teens connected with predators online via Skout, a location-based “flirting” app. All three cases ended with alleged sexual assault or rape at the hands of men who were masquerading as teens to lure potential victims. To Skout’s credit, they briefly suspended operations in order to tighten safety protocols. As result, a teen's exact location is no longer revealed on the app, only a general region.
“Compared to some social media targeting teens, Skout is more PG-13 than NC-17,” says one parent, “probably due to increased moderation. Still, it's not perfectly safe, and parents and teens might want to communicate about the potential dangers of any meet-up app.”
While geo-location software can open the door to dangers like the
ones described above, they can
also be useful for parents seeking to stay more closely connected with their digital kids. Parental monitoring tools that use geo-location can help shield kids from possible online problems such as cyberbullying, sexting and predators.