Should You Allow Your Teen to Date Online?

Teen girl online dating

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Today’s teenagers are the first generation who have grown up with an opportunity to find romance online. Many teenagers welcome the opportunity to exchange awkward face-to-face interactions with online dating. While there are many benefits of online dating, there are dangers to consider, too. These potential hazards include dating partners who may take advantage of teens.

Many dating apps limit their users to 18 and up, but some teens make profiles on restricted sites using fake ages. And there may be people out there looking to prey upon under age daters. It can be challenging for many teens to navigate these relationships, and if they've signed up secretly, they may be reluctant to ask for help if they get in over their head or have a bad experience.

However, not all potential dates are predators and not all online romances are the same. Some involve online chats and phone calls only, while others include in-person meetings. Some teens may be able to find healthy relationships online. The key is to determine if your teen is ready for this experience, and if so, to help them search for love online safely.

The Positive Aspects of Online Dating

The cyber world offers solace to teens who feel shy and awkward about engaging in face-to-face conversations with a potential love interest. A shy teen, for example, may boldly approach new people in an online chat room. Or, a teen with low self-esteem may find self-assurance when she’s sitting behind a screen.

Teens who feel they’ve been labeled by their peers in a negative light, or those who feel they don’t fit in at school, may find like-minded peers on the Internet. For some teens, an online community, or a special online friendship, can help them deal with the turbulence of adolescence.

An online romance can certainly be innocent. Teens who choose to speak over the phone and via the internet only certainly aren’t in any danger of becoming sexually active. For that reason, many parents prefer their teen to engage in online dating.

The Dangers of Online Dating

Teens may also get tricked into giving out personal information that could lead to their identities being stolen. Or, in more serious cases, they may be lured into in-person meetings that could be dangerous.

Unfortunately, predators often take advantage of the teen’s trusting nature. A person who claims to be a 16-year-old football star in a neighboring town may actually be an adult looking to prey on an unsuspecting teenager. Sadly, most teens believe that such deceit could never happen to them.

Teens are using many of the same dating sites as adults. Apps like Tinder, for example, allow minors to access their site. As a result, teens are often getting into conversations with grown-ups who are looking for romance.

While a 15-year-old teen may think to talk to a 25-year-old is "cool," a romantic relationship with such an age difference can have serious emotional—and even legal—consequences.

An online romance may limit a teen’s in-person social interaction. A teen with a boyfriend in another state may decide to forgo social events, like a dance or a party because she wants to stay home to chat with her boyfriend online. This can have serious ramifications for a teen’s social life.

Online dating also poses some of the same risks as in-person dating. Teens may be subjected to emotional abuse from a romantic partner on the other side of the globe.

Talk to Your Teen About Online Dating

Talk to teens about the realities of online dating. Many blogs and teen magazines tout the benefits of finding love online. But teens need to know about the dark side of online dating too.

Telling your teen not to talk to people online isn’t realistic. Teens who have social media accounts will likely make online friendships that could turn to romance. So even if your teen isn’t specifically looking for love on the internet, it could still happen.

Discuss safety issues and establish clear social media strategies and online rules. For example, don’t allow your teen to meet anyone from the internet without at least talking to you about it first. And if you’re going to allow your teen to meet someone in-person, do some research first about who the person is and chaperone the meeting.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.