The world has gone digital, today it’s estimated that more people will meet someone to date online than off. This trend is also showing up with teenage online dating. Many adults would argue that kids are in school and have part time jobs so they have many chances to meet someone to date right in their own backyard. Whether you think online dating is appropriate for your teen or not, the reality is that your teen is very likely already meeting new people online so it might be good if you monitor their actions so you can help keep them safe.
Of course, not matter what your age, the most obvious benefits to online dating is the opportunity to meet people that you may never have had the opportunity to meet in real life. You can meet people from virtually anywhere in the world and most any cultural background. Unfortunately the downside is that you don’t really know who you’re talking to. That 16 year old from the next town could actually be a 40 year old from your neighborhood. That’s why it’s so important to teach your teen how to be safe online.
Here are some safety tips to instill in your teenager, and this is the time to not worry about repeating yourself:
1. Remind them that they don’t really know who they’re talking to so they shouldn’t give out any personal information such as their address, phone number, name of their school, what kind of car they drive, the name of the mall they hang out in, etc. Any or all of this seemingly innocent information could be all the information a predator needs to come into physical contact with your teen.
Here’s a case in point: there was a story not long ago about a kid chatting with another ‘kid’ online. He was pretty careful to not give away too much information but he did mention the name of his school. In another conversation, weeks later, he mentioned that he and some friends were going to the local mall. The ‘kid’ he was chatting with online was an undercover police officer and he used this ‘innocent’ information to track down the kid he’d been chatting with when he was at the mall with his friends.
Talk about scary, it’s a good thing that it was a police officer and not a predator. That teen learned a very valuable lesson that day, and you need to tell your kids about this story so they can too… a predator can use the most innocent of information to locate them.
2. If your teen and their online friend think that they’d like to meet, try to talk with them on the phone first, this way it will be much harder to lie to you about who they really are and how old they are. Also never, ever, let them meet anyone from online until they tell you about it. Once they’ve told you about it, the two of you can figure out the safest way to meet their new online friend (hint, it won’t be anywhere near your home or school).
Whether we like it or not, teenage online dating is most likely here to stay. Instead of fighting it (which is likely to just encourage your kids to do it behind your back) talk to your teen about the good and the bad of online dating. Make sure they know how to protect themselves and let them know that they can always come to you if they feel uncomfortable about something that has happened.