When it comes to teenagers, certain aspects of the online dating world could be really dangerous

Would you sleep soundly, knowing that your 13-year-old has just jumped on the back of a motorbike with an 18-year-old? For the same reason, we cannot sleep while our teenagers are interacting with strangers in their own rooms through mobile devices.

Being in love as a teenager can be such a fun and emotional roller coaster ride. The way your heart races at an unnatural speed when you see that guy or girl on the way to the next class is exhilarating. Or when you cheer for the rugby team, but the only player you are actually noticing in your spotlight is the one you hope will notice you in the crowd.

That same excitement and thrill is felt when teenagers find someone special online. The fact that their newfound love might live on another continent adds to the mysteriousness and wonder of online dating. It becomes an adventure with so many opportunities to explore, any time of the day or night.

Many successful relationships come to life through online dating sites and there are wonderful stories to be told about finding true love online. However, when it comes to teenagers, certain aspects of the online dating world could be really dangerous.

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How does it work?

There is a huge variety of online dating sites and chat rooms available and they usually have a clear description of the type of subscriber they wish to attract. Terms and conditions with age requirements are outlined and other community rules are stipulated for subscribers to accept.

Some of the teenage chat rooms request users not to share their real identity or any personal information. It is true that we should never share our personal information on online platforms, but the fact that users do not have to share their real identity creates scary opportunities for stalking, human trafficking and sexual grooming.

As an adult, we should be able to discern between good and bad, however let’s remind our teenagers of a couple of risks:

  • People lie and are most likely using someone else’s profile picture. Your daughter might be interacting with a 50-year-old man or women pretending to be the cute 17-year-old boy in the profile picture.
  • Understand that these sites use algorithms to match people and that the data you provide will influence the ‘match-making process’.
  • Users have different agendas when they join chat rooms, and online dating sites could be used to lure other users into pornography, sexual grooming or stalking
  • Live video chats are good, to ensure that the person on the profile picture is indeed the person interacting with you when you have video chats, however be aware of your background, which that person will be seeing, such as your family pictures, your room, your pets etc. The person could also start with innocent requests to show him/her what you look like in your swimsuit, which leads to pornographic requests.
  • They could be prematurely exposed to sexually explicit material, which will impact their behaviour and cause psychological and emotional damage.
  • Webcams can be hacked and someone could be watching your every move. Rather cover the camera when not in use.
  • Strange abbreviations are used and their meanings should not be part of our vocabulary.

Let’s teach our teens to rather…

  • Be ‘fussy’ about the person whom they allow into their hearts, and have clear boundaries and a set of criteria in terms of values, beliefs and priorities.
  • To have real relationships with people with whom they can connect face-to-face.
  • If you allow your teenager to sign up for online dating, then be part of the journey, to ensure that they understand the rules, the risks and the pitfalls.
  • Take the pressure off – what society expects is not always the best and as a teenager, it is alright to be single, have lots of friends and enjoy an uncomplicated life.

It is hard to stay ahead of this digital game, however we can be vigilant, informed and personally involved in our kids’ lives.