Talking to Your Older Teens About Dating Apps & Online Romance

Online dating has been the butt of a lot of jokes over the years, but it’s changed a lot since the days of lonely hearts message boards that only existed in the shady corners of the Internet. Today, online dating is everywhere, with websites that boast hundreds of thousands of members. There are sites that cater to every taste and need, from age, to ethnicity, to religion, and even to hobbies and interests you want to share with potential partners. Not only that, but the culture around online dating has changed, too. It’s no longer seen as the last refuge of the lonely and desperate, but rather as something everyone does.

Which is why it’s important for you to talk to your teens about online dating before they decide to go looking for themselves.

Teen Dating Apps & Online Romance

Most parents have a hard enough time talking to their kids about dating as it is. Online dating, though, comes with its own baggage; sexual predators, stalking, and the ever-looming threat of online harassment are just a few of them. A parent’s job isn’t always easy, though, and if your teen is going to learn about online dating, it’s a better idea for them to get real information from you than it is to go searching online, or to ask their peer group.

The Changing Face of Dating

Teenage Couple at Social Dance

Older teens want to date. The ritual of becoming an adult is something every generation goes through, and it’s all part of growing up. Technology has always changed how the culture around dating works, though. A hundred and fifty years ago it was walking the town square together. A few generations later it was going to the drive-in. And now, with the Internet riding around in our front pockets, it’s possible for us to meet people we would never have without its assistance.

That seems scary, as a parent, but it’s important to remember that there are some positive aspects to online dating as well. Older Teens can expand their search for romance outside their own little corner of the world, meeting people from other schools or surrounding towns. This expanded choice means they don’t have their choices limited by who they sit near in class, and the social politics of their own school. It lets them reach out to find genuine compatibility; the same way it does for adults.

Be Open, and Help Keep Your Teens Safe

Just because a conversation about online dating and dating apps may be awkward or unpleasant, that’s no excuse not to have it.

Instead, let your teens know that you’re here for them, and that you want to help them grow into adults as safely as possible. So if they get a new app (with your approval of course), or start talking to someone new, just ask them to always discuss it with you first. Also, make sure that your teens understand that if they want to meet someone from their online life, that you have to meet them as well. No secret meetings after school, or sneaking off to see someone by the light of the moon; that is where things get dangerous. Keep things open, honest, and above-board, and no one will have anything to 
worry about.

Close up portrait of teen couple joining heads.Isolated on white background.

Remind Them They’re Still Teens

It’s also important to drive home the fact that teens have to deal with certain legal responsibilities. Sex, or at least the specter of it, always follows dating. It’s important for parents and teens to talk about that subject, as well as how technology has changed that, too. Sexting, nude photos, and other erotic accessories can cause a storm of legal problems for teens because they’re underage. Sometimes all it takes is a year of difference between a teen and a partner for serious problems to erupt. That’s why it’s better to talk about it, and get it out in the open, before it happens.

If you do allow your teen to use a particular app, I always recommend that parents explore it first because there are many, many inappropriate apps out there. Setting boundaries with the types of apps that your teens are exposed to is easier when you use a trustworthy parental control software. Netsanity offers a suite of services – their Appblocker, where certain social media and other apps are profiled and parents can one-click block them, making those dating apps that you may find inappropriate such as Grindr, Down, Hot or Not, and many others a one-click solution. They have a free trial, so it’s worth checking out if your teen has an Apple or Android mobile device.

Honest ongoing conversations about staying safe online will do more to keep your teen safe than virtually any other action you might take!

With more than 9 out ofTeenager boy with smartphone in a restaurant 10 teens in the United States using social media, it is not surprising that a large number of them are connecting via various dating apps. Dating and sexual exploration are normal teenager behavior; however, the risks of teens using dating apps expose teens to many dangers and consequences they are not prepared to handle.

There are a number of apps that teens have access to that help them hook up or date, whether online or in person. One of the most popular apps is Tinder, which is commonly known as an app used for instigating casual sexual encounters. In fact, 7 percent of 10 million regular users are between 13 and 17, even though Tinder is usually known as an app for adults.

With this app, users connect to others by swiping right on a picture of someone they are interested in and swiping left if the person does not appeal to them. After the two users show interest in each other, they are able to send messages and then connect offline if they want.woman with online dating phone in the park

Tinder allows users who are over 13 to sign up for the app. Yet, they do attempt to protect users under 18 by allowing them only to connect to others in the same age range.

However, with this and other social media apps, there is no way to verify the age of the user. In fact, there is nothing preventing a user from creating a false profile. Not only do teens often lie about their ages to get past age restrictions on certain apps, adults can lie in order to connect to those teens. It is for this reason, that so-called “social monitoring” only parental apps are not very effective. They work on tracking a teen’s account but that teen user will often create many false accounts, hiding the real account from parents.

Parents can attempt to restrict access to apps rated as +18 using parental controls on smartphones and tablets. However, many apps are rated +12 even when they require you to be over 18 to sign up, such as with OKCupid.

So, when teens do use dating apps, with or without parental permission, what are some of the consequences? Worst case scenarios include cases of rape and sexual assaults. Even when the interaction is meant to be exclusively online, various dating apps that use GPS to match users can be used by predators to target a victim.

However, often the consequences are not as obvious, as in the case of sexting. Sexting, the sharing of sexually explicit images or text, is a common behavior via dating apps. On the one hand, such behavior can be seen as a form of sexual curiosity. On the other, there are many unintended consequences that teens face when engaging in sexting.

One of the most common consequence is losing control of the text or image that is transmitted to another user. The recipient can share the information to others, whether to humiliate or extort the user–or just to brag to others. Even more dire of a consequence is the potential for mass sharing, exposing the “sexter” to an extreme loss of privacy.

A lesser known consequence involves legal repercussions. Even if sent between minors, sexting can be considered child pornography. The recipient and sender can both be charged of this crime. Further, if a parent is aware that the minor is sexting and does not try to prevent it, the parent can be charged as well.

But another consequence is less visible–the emotional effects of this form of sexual exploration. The loss of privacy and potential for humiliation has obvious emotional effects, but sexting can also encourage the users to feel pressured into sexual interactions they are not mature enough to engage in.young woman consoling her crying friend

So, what can parents do to minimize the risks of dating apps? The first line of defense involves communication. Talking to your teen about the danger of dating apps and encouraging healthy, safe choices is essential for minimizing risks. If you choose to allow your teen to use dating apps they should always be treated like other social networks in which a parent requires the teen to share the password and maximize privacy controls. If you choose to limit or block these apps from your teens, using a parental control software such as Netsanity on all of their mobile devices, will help to protect them from potential mistakes and dangers. You can also utilize the Ask To Buy option in Apple’s Family Share controls and only allow your teen to download apps with your permission.

Although parents cannot protect teens from every risk, being aware of the potential dangers of dating apps is the first step for safety.


Also published on Medium.


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