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Meeting and chatting to others online is a normal part of life for most teenagers, but using online dating services could put them at risk. Here, CEOP tells parents what they should know
So much of a teenager’s social life happens online and many feel really comfortable using the internet to meet people. The opportunity to meet and flirt with people outside their immediate social circle can be hugely exciting to a young person, particularly at a time where they are exploring their understanding of sex and relationships. It’s also not as awkward to flirt with people online as it is in school corridors!
Should I be worried?
The majority of online dating apps and websites are designed for adults, but even those which are for teens can present risks to young people if they choose to use them. As popular as online dating has become, it’s not a good idea for young people and isn’t a safe way for children to explore relationships.
Some people who want to harm children use the internet to look for young people to target, and they use sites and apps where they know young people go to look for love, to flirt or to make friends. They may try to trick a young person into believing that they are trustworthy, that they are a friend or they may even pretend that they are the same age.
Many popular dating apps allow the user to share their location or chat to people in their area – this increases the potential for a ‘real-life’ meeting. The ability to make contact with strangers located nearby is exciting, but young people should never be encouraged to meet up with anybody they’ve only ever met online.
Talk, and listen, to your child
If you find out that your child has been using online dating services, remain calm and try not to get angry with them. Talk to them about what drew them to online dating, what services they’re using and how they’ve been using them. Understanding and listening to their perspective might help you express your concerns.
If your child continues dating online, it’s important to have ongoing conversations with them about their use of dating sites to ensure they aren’t exposing themselves to harm.
Make sure they know how to spot the warning signs by discussing this age appropriate advice with them:
Who doesn’t enjoy being made to feel special or given lots of attention? We know this is a tactic that many offenders use to gain the trust of a young person quickly.
‘Remind your child that they should never do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable’
It’s much harder for your child to think critically about someone if they’re inundated with ‘likes’ or compliments about how sexy or talented they are. Offenders use this as a way to exert control over a child, often becoming very nasty if a child doesn’t do what they say.
Remind your child that they should never do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. If they are being made to feel this way, they should tell you.
Make sure they know it’s important not to trust everything you hear online, no matter how nice or flattering it sounds!
Let’s talk about sex
Ask your child about their online dating profile. What kind of first impression does it give? Is it age appropriate? At CEOP, we’ve been told by offenders that another tactic they use is to look for young people who use a sexy username, post sexy pictures or talk about sex online. Young people might do these things because they’re naturally curious about sex and relationships, but it can make offenders think they’ll be open to sexual behaviour and could put them at risk.
Make sure your child knows it’s never a good idea to send these sort of pictures or videos. If you do find out your child has shared something, try not to panic. Watch these short films created by CEOP which will help you understand why they might have done it, how to talk to them about it and where to get help should you need it.
Keep private stuff private
Dating sites encourage users to share their personal information, but it isn’t a good idea for your child to do so. They should keep their other social media profiles and usernames private, and shouldn’t give out their phone number or location. Ask your child always to think about why someone would need their information before deciding whether to share it.
Teen dating can be tricky, but remind your child that they are much better off looking for love in the real world. It might not always seem like it but there are lots of opportunities for young people to meet someone in school, through a sports club, hobby or youth group. This is much safer and it’s a better way to build a friendship and possibly a relationship over time.
Good to remember…
Sexual communication with a child is a criminal offence. Make sure your child knows that adults who want to talk about sex are doing something wrong and should be reported.
If you’re worried about someone your child is in contact with online, it’s important to report these concerns to CEOP. Make sure your child also knows how and when to report – you can find more information on this here.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: April 2016
Updated: May 2018