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Parenting in our always-connected world comes with new challenges, new learning curves, and new awkward moments.
You’re thinking that your child is too young for dating apps and websites, and you’re right. If your under-18 teen opened an account on Tinder or Bumble, not only would it be against these platforms’ terms of services, but it would also be problematic in many ways.
But remember that for many teens now, every relationship is an online relationship in some sense, whether it is familial, friendly, or romantic. More than ever before, a large portion of your teen’s communication with others occurs through social media, texting, and even email! In this sense, what you think of as “online dating,” your teen might just consider “dating,” even if no dating app is involved.
As your kid gets older, it is important to think about the rules you want to set for them in a world where our internet selves collide with the real world, both for crushes and social relationships.
Have an honest conversation, no matter how cringy
Sit down for an honest conversation with your teen about dating, both online and off. This should be in person, not a text thread. You might be uncomfortable with the topic, and your teen may think the idea of a dating talk with their parents has major “ick factor,” in the parlance of today’s youth. But this discussion is important, so push through the awkwardness and have an open conversation about your expectations for their social life. Let them know why you are putting each rule in place – knowing the meaning behind the rule helps explain why the rule is important.
As a starting point, here are 7 guidelines we recommend you put in place for your teen and their online relationships:
Minors aren’t allowed on dating apps
You and your teen should know that they are prohibited from having profiles on dating apps and services if they are under 18, for hopefully obvious reasons (i.e., it isn’t safe to have both minors and adults seeking relationships in the same place). Some teens find ways to evade these rules, but it just isn’t smart to use dating apps created for adults if you aren’t an adult. This should be a firm rule in your household, and your teenager should understand why. They can still interact with people online, but they can wait until age 18 to use Tinder, Match, or OkCupid.
Set privacy settings on social media
Without access to dating apps, a lot of teenage romances occur on social media or texting services. Have an open conversation about how your teen uses social media. We recommend that your teen turns on the highest privacy settings on every platform and make as little information public as possible. That way, they can better ensure they actually know the people they interact with online. Many services have parental controls you can turn on – use them!
Think safe about meeting IRL
If your teen wants to meet a date they’ve met online and don’t know from real life, have a serious conversation about precautions. Ideally, you should verify the identity of the person and can at least know from a reverse-image search that they aren’t catfishing your teenager. Furthermore, the first meeting should take place in a bright, public area. Don’t feel weird about asking to chaperone, even if you watch the date take place from a distance. Even if your teen knows the person from school or elsewhere, talk about your rules. Even if your teen will be more likely to rebel than listen to your hard-won wisdom, a conversation shows that you care.
A little sleuthing goes a long way
Teach your teen to be a cyber-sleuth when it comes to online relationships with anybody, romantic or otherwise. It is far too common for people to get stung by catfish or cybercriminals. Use reverse image search on a person’s pictures to see if they pop up as other online profiles – a major red flag. The crush might have mutual friends with your teen. Encourage your child to reach out to these friends to make sure the person is being truthful. If you do catch a catfish, don’t feel the need to confront them – you don’t owe them any more of your time! If you think something criminal is going on, though, alert your local police department and the FBI.
Trust your friends and family
Help your teen understand that they should listen to their friends, you, and other family members. If your teen’s social network thinks the match is sketchy, they should at least listen to the opinion. Those who are removed from the situation may have a clearer view and opinion of a potential date, while your children might be too blinded by excitement to see any possible warning signs.
Trust your gut
Most of all, your teen to listen to their own intuition, both now and for their future social life. If something feels off, it likely is. Your children are under no obligation to meet anyone they’ve met online, even if matches are persistent or get upset if your kids say no to a date. If your child is asked on a date by someone they’ve been talking to for a while and don’t really want to go, your teen should be honest with their concerns. Any reasonable and trustworthy person will understand. Have an emergency word your kids can text or say on a phone call to you (or one of their friends) if they’re ever in an unsafe or uncomfortable situation and need help discretely. The most important thing you can do as a parent is create an open dialogue with your children about online safety. Do everything in your power to make sure your teen or young adult knows they can talk to you about online dating.
Protect your identity!
This might seem obvious to most adults, but younger people might not understand just how common it is for people online to not be what they seem. Scammers can be creative and convincing in their quest to steal your identity. Teach your kids to never send their Social Security number, bank information, usernames, or passwords to anyone they’ve met online. Never send money for any reason, even if the person claims it’s an emergency. Your children should keep their full names, birthdates, addresses, and other personal information private, too.