Teens are curious.
It’s fun to meet and date people they don’t see in the hallways every day.
It feels good when someone swipes right and finds them attractive.
Flirting is fun.
These are just a few reasons many teens are exploring Tinder these days, the dating app popular in the twenty- and thirty-something crowd.
While Tinder isn’t new (launched in 2012), app trends among teens change constantly, and this is a recent one. We’ve got a lot on our digital radar as parents but apps that match (underaged) users within a defined geographic area get popular, it quickly shoots to the top of our radar. So, let’s take a look.
What’s the Big Deal
Tinder allows users 18 and over to register for nearby “matches” but because Tinder links to Facebook accounts for verification, underage users can easily input a false birthdate to circumvent the rules.
To tweens and teens, chatting with people nearby sounds fun, but to parents, the app opens the door to anything from pedophiles to bullies to stalkers to abuse. From a parent’s point of view, when the dating pool widens, so too do the risks. High school students are not immune from abuse. In fact, according to LoveIsRespect.org, every year, approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner; one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
Tinder allows users to connect three main social accounts: Spotify, Instagram, and Facebook, which can easily put personal information into the hands of the wrong people. Users are also encouraged to give the name of their High School and their workplace to further refine matching.
While our first thought is physical danger, using dating apps too early also threatens a child’s emotional health and confuses their still-developing social and interpersonal skills. The risk of heartbreak, betrayal, and emotional abuse can be devastating for kids who aren’t ready to date — let alone wisely discern an endless pool of possible matches.
Too, there’s no shortage on Tinder of teens making it clear that they are just looking for a “hookup” or a “good time.” So, allowing tweens into that arena before they are ready can carry huge emotional and physical consequences.
Dating apps can also distort your child’s understanding of a worthy partner and reinforce looks-based relationships. If choosing a mate is as natural as swiping left (don’t like) and swiping right (like), then the hope of someday meeting “the one” could become a whole lot more difficult, if not impossible. And how much easier can your child’s uniqueness and worth be overlooked with just a swipe? Using dating apps before you are ready is an emotional wreck waiting to happen.
Monitor apps. Check your child’s phone for the Tinder app icon (see below). Don’t forget: Kids hide apps behind vault apps that may look like a game, a calculator, or a safe. So, do some clicking. If you discover your son or daughter is using Tinder ask them why and have them walk you through how they use it personally. Discuss the reasons against using the app, listen to their reasoning, decide on a family plan moving forward. If they are under 18, consider having them delete the app.
Factors such as age and maturity will, no doubt, affect every family’s dating app plan. My daughter is almost 18, a high school senior, and heading to college in a blink. So, my conversation will be dramatically different from the parent of a 13-year-old.
Discuss the bigger picture. In a swipe right culture, values can quickly vanish. If you allow your child to date, discuss his or her relationship values. What makes a person attractive? What character traits do you desire? What expectations do you have of a relationship?
Look beyond profiles. Advise your teen to do some sleuthing and look beyond a person’s Tinder profile for red flags revealing inconsistencies in truthfulness and character. Tinder warns: “Bad actors often push people to communicate off the platform immediately. It’s up to you to research and do your due diligence.”
Set up ground rules. Face-t0-face meetings with a stranger outside of Tinder (or any online platform) should be in a public location. Your child should always drive his or her vehicle and have their phone fully charged. Make sure inform you of who they are meeting with and where.
Kids establishing online friendships is here to stay. Some of your child’s best friends will likely be found online. Dating apps aren’t “bad,” but people can be careless and abusive when using them. And, using dating apps under 18, as many kids are doing today, only invites premature risk.
Remember, a digital connection may not have been the way you met friends or love interests in your day, but it’s a natural channel today. Be open to the social shift but equally alert and willing to exercise full-throttle parenting to keep your kids safe.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).