When you reach into your pocket and pull out your phone, the world is suddenly at your fingertips. Communication, banking, shopping and organization are just a few of the possibilities and conveniences that mobile apps provide.
These days, a growing trend adds new relationships to this list. Through dating apps, people can connect with others in their area, learn a little bit about them, message back and forth and then decide whether or not they would like to meet in person.
Generally speaking, these “dating apps” are reserved for adults over the age of 18. In spite of this, many teens are using them and, as a result, it’s important to understand what these dating apps entail and what the risks are for your teen. Here’s what you should know.
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Tinder is likely one of the most popular or well-known dating apps currently used and, in fact, 7% of its users are aged 13-17. Put simply, Tinder is a photo and messaging dating app that allows users to browse pictures of potential matches within a certain distance of their location.
To interact with the app, a user looks at a person’s photo collection and swipes right to “like” their photos or left to “pass.” If a person whose photo you “liked” swipes “like” on your photo, too, the app allows you to message each other. At the end of the day, meeting up is typically the goal.
Skout is a flirting app that allows users to sign up as a teen or an adult. Users are then placed in an appropriate age group, where they can post to a feed, comment on others’ posts, add pictures and chat.
While one benefit of this app is the age separation between teens and adults, there is no verification of what someone states their age to be.
Badoo is certainly not intended for teens and its policy requests that no photos of teens or children under 18 be posted. The app has over 200 million users worldwide and identifies the location of a user by tracking their device’s location, then matching pictures and profiles of potentially thousands of people they could contact in the nearby area.
Unfortunately, in spite of the policy’s request, content isn’t actively monitored and a lot of it can be very sexual.
Acknowledging the Risks
As a parent, it’s important to acknowledge the risks involved with dating apps and to help your teen know how to be safe. First of all, for many of these apps, the basis is making a judgement on someone’s outward appearance. This tends to create negative body image and place a lot of pressure on looks.
Furthermore, there is often very little monitoring on whether or not a person is sharing accurate information about themselves, including age. In other words, your teen could think they are talking to another teen when in actual fact, they are not. On the flip side, teens might say that they are a lot older than they are.
Finally, there is certainly a risk involved in meeting up in person, especially if inaccurate information was shared. As a general rule, advise your teen that it’s best to not meet in person. However, if they do choose to meet someone in person, tell your teen that they should inform you when they plan to meet someone online, that they should meet in an open, public space and they should bring friends with them, if not a parent. In other words, they should never meet someone alone and they should never meet them in private.
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Opening the Conversation
Your teen might not be thrilled if you start introducing rules about their online dating, life but it’s important that they truly understand the risks involved. Try to encourage open, honest communication about the internet with your teen so that they know they can come to you to talk about it and that they don’t have to keep it a secret. Finally, help your teen understand that, generally speaking, there is no replacement for real-life, in-person interactions and try to instil in them a healthy understanding of dating and relationships.
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