In Cyber Safety, The Digital World

Navigating A Teen Dating Site

Dear parents, the times of conventional movie and dinner dates is over. Your kids are meeting online! It is time to learn how to navigate a teen dating site.

What Does Teen Dating Look Like Now?

Years ago, before the Internet became popular, a teenager who wanted to meet a potential boyfriend or girlfriend had to meet them in person. They went to a dance or party, maybe saw someone attractive across a crowded room, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But nowadays, more and more people meet online. This new method of initiating romantic interest by using a teen dating site has both good and bad properties. Yes, you can meet someone sweet and kind, and this might be a good way for them to improve your social situation. But be careful – some web sites are just not appropriate for teens, despite their claims.

With the advent of the Internet, teenage dating has changed in many ways. Now, relationships that once were private can become public overnight thanks to social media. For a shy teenager, teen chat rooms might be just the way to get into social relationships. These chat rooms might be a way for your teenager to become more comfortable with social interaction. But do you really know who they’re chatting with?  And how do you know when they set up a date with a stranger, unless you’re monitoring their every online post – a move guaranteed to antagonize your teen!

Can Teen Dating Websites be Dangerous?

Dating websites for teenagers may be a good way for shy teens to meet new people, they can also represent serious dangers. Your teen might meet someone that lies about their age so they can meet vulnerable young people. Online websites lend themselves to “catfishing,” where people pretend to be what they’re not. By the way, this isn’t just a problem on teen dating sites – it happens to adults, too!

Your child might be exposed to a potential pedophile. Just because they sign up on a teenage dating site meant for specific ages, there’s no guarantee that the people teens meet electronically are who they say they are. Relationship websites can be a good way to meet new people, but encourage your teen to use common sense and specific safety measures to be sure they are safe.

For instance, they should never give out personal information about where they live.  They should never set up a meeting by themselves with someone they don’t know. Can you guarantee that your teen will tell you about any plans they have to meet online buddies?

Many psychologists and people in law enforcement discourage teens from meeting people online. They feel this diminishes the ability of teens to interact on a personal level. (The same could be said for constant cellphone use.)  In fact, some psychologists have found a connection between social media and dating violence or bullying.

However, there are advantages to online dating. Teens  can talk to potential dates before they meet and find out if they are compatible. At the very least, they can find out whether the online contact has similar political, religious and social beliefs. This makes an in-person meeting much easier for a sensitive teen.

Changes in Modern Dating

It isn’t just online dating that has changed the social situation for modern teens. The entire system of dating is different than it used to be just a few years ago, as author Barbara Whitaker explains in her Web MD Article, Teen Dating: A Mom’s Guide.  Whitaker explains that teens tend to date in groups, and while this may give them more security, it can also cause problems with peer pressure. And of course, when they meet online, teens can experience even more pervasive bullying.

There’s more pressure to have sex at a younger age. And technology plays a significant role in the ability of teens to get together. They can use their cellphones to plan meetings their parents may not know about. It is incumbent upon parents to keep tabs on their kids just as they did in the old days, and the use of cellphones has made that more difficult.

Throw in the dangers of online dating and parents have a tough time keeping kids safe. This means that it’s more important than ever to communicate with teens and establish a clear system of honesty.  Because it’s difficult to restrict your teens from communicating with others online, it’s best to talk about their interactions and monitor their online behavior. Of course, one of the main reasons it’s so difficult to keep kids from getting online is because cellphones have made communication omnipresent. Kids use their cell phones all the time to connect on social networking sites. So even when they don’t go to an online dating site, they’re often online anyway.

How Teen Dating Websites Work

Some websites allow young teens to sign up and filter contacts for their age group. Others are specifically designed for teens. Teens can also meet each other through social networking sites and even teen-specific online chat rooms. But it would be possible for older people to pretend to be younger, so again – be careful.  Tell your children never to agree to meet a stranger alone or in a secluded place.

Also, whenever they use dating websites for teenagers, tell them to take some time to carefully think about the type of information they’re making public. Do they really want to post that crazy photo at the party where it looks like they were drinking even though it was apple juice? Or the picture of them in the tiny bikini? Are they sending messages you don’t want them to send?

Almost all dating sites allow you to upload photos and create an online profile. The profile can be as public or private as you want. If the teen dating site supports such security, limit the ability of the public to view your profile until you feel comfortable with the types of people on the site. Sometimes, you can review their profiles and give them some kind of sign, such as an electronic “wink” or a request for contact, once you feel you might have something in common with them.

Popular Teen Dating Websites

Some of the most popular teen dating web sites have specific safety measures in place to protect their clients. Here are a few of the most used sites:

  • Tagged is a huge website that allows people 13 and over to register. Unfortunately, it was labeled by Time Magazine as an annoying website because it can send Spam e-mails to all your contacts. The people who run the website say they have fixed this problem.
  • MeetMe was created by two New Jersey High School students. It now includes members from all over the world. It is primarily a mobile app. You can meet new members and even play social games for free. MeetMe “uses an array of social discovery applications in order to connect you to our incredible and friendly members, and friendly members.” MeetMe allows you to browse for members nearby. It only allows anyone 13 and older to join their site, and you must be verified via phone number.
  • MyLOL bills itself as “the #1 teen network in the world,” with more than 300,000 members, including those in the U.S., U.K. Canada and Australia. The site has a teen app and teen chat room. My LOL says they have specific safety programs in place and they also list ways to stay safe online. But some online advisers say that MyLOL has a number of older members, so again, the stress needs to be on security.
  • Skout is a dating website that has been in existence since 2007. They describe themselves as a “global, mobile network.” They also describe their site as secure, “with zero tolerance for bad behavior”. Their web site includes a nice blog with solid information about meeting people and safe dating.

If you’re concerned that your teen might be in a dangerous relationship, especially one that began on a teen dating website, you can find out information about how to prevent relationship violence by going to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, where a new, five-year study is being conducted. Information about the ongoing CDC program is available here.

As always, safety is crucial. Alienating your teen by refusing to allow them access to online communication can cause them to “sneak around”.  They can even go to the library or a friend’s place to go online. Instead of restricting them, encourage open communication and talk about the necessary steps to stay safe. You may be nervous about their Internet dating habits, but keeping the lines of communication open can definitely keep them safer.

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