Updated: November 21, 2021
Episode Background: In the episode “Kindler”, a teen girl does not see any issues signing up for an adult dating app. Her single mom struggles to find balance and control in the household and the child’s cousin doesn’t make things any better at a holiday dinner. We learn that Kindler (a spoof of Tinder), a swipe-type dating website, like most social media platforms, has atrocious age verification standards and mom reveals that the site might have played a role in the breakdown of her marriage.
Fast and Fake Profiles – It takes only a few minutes to get up and running on any dating app nowadays. While dating apps can be fun for some users, they pose lots of risks for children and vulnerable people. Fake profiles or catfishes can be often identified on dating apps, primarily because of their streamlined account set up process and lack of care on part of the app designers. Dating apps don’t ever verify users’ details and only a small handful of dating sites set up roadblocks like asking for a custom selfie. Lying on dating apps is almost always expected from all genders, especially men. Users will lie about age, looks or a number of other characteristics to help boost their visibility.
Pressure to Meet – Dating apps commonly are used by people looking for short-term, casual relationships. Most women commonly cite pressure from men as a sole reason why dating apps often fall short in expectations. A child in a situation faced with this kind of pressure may be taken aback and stunned or even tricked into doing things they ordinarily wouldn’t do. Matches often communicate rapidly, without barriers by the dating app and often copy-and-pasted messages are used. Teens posing as older to get access to dating apps quickly understand a different way of communicating and with emphasis on looks (and making choices based on someone’s pictures) it may be difficult to understand nuances for younger brains. Some older adults may pose as younger, in an attempt to coerce and groom younger users into having intimate experiences with them. Teenagers and younger looking people are at risk of meeting someone they know little about and who may only want a sexual encounter.
Privacy Concerns – Giving away too much information can be another significant risk on dating sites for anyone. Scammers online attempt to gain access and trick people however they can. They may use stolen pictures, tell lies and bolster attractive stats in order to get information from people. They may just want a phone number (to send a phishing text), an email address or may try hard for other information like home addresses or family names. Often people will give out social media accounts (like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) in order to ‘screen’ people and in turn what they could be doing is just inviting additional dangers.
A lot of information could be given just in pictures that people post on dating sites. Places someone patronizes or workplaces can all be targets for people looking to cause harm. Photos may also be copied or saved and used in other harmful ways (like making duplicate social media profiles of people).
18+ /Grooming – All dating apps advertise as being for adults recognized as ages 18 and up. If a younger person (like a teen) is discovered by someone older, they may be threatened or manipulated into communications easily at the risk of becoming banned from the system (as most dating apps have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to under 18’s using their system). This (among other reasons) makes teens users of dating apps susceptible to grooming and people wanting to be ‘just friends’ after someone learns of their actual age. Most kids attempt to use dating sites, often do so because they feel depressed, lonely or disconnected from their peers. They often will seek out older associations possibly from trauma in their past for comfort. A parent that is disconnected from a child from an early age, has that child at greater risk for teenage pregnancy, the criminal justice system or risk of severe injury. Teens might seek out companionship with older adults subconsciously to heal from the loss of an (available) parent. Grooming can lead to severe emotional harm, poisonous or toxic relationships and further trauma.
Emotional Harm – Looking for a greater sense of confidence from the validation of others and basing an individual’s self-worth on the number of matches one receives (or comments on pictures) can be extremely harmful to interpersonal development. The superficial culture of dating apps can lead to long-term influence on a teenager’s mood and self-esteem. Those who are not successful on dating apps (or are unmatched) can likely feel ignored and not validated by others thereby increasing negative feelings. It also may compound negative stereotypes around health, looks or gender features.
Bluntly discuss with teens the potential risks of dating apps and its dangers. Dating apps can have detrimental consequences for users’ well-being. The most at-risk users are those who are compulsive and people who tend to compare themselves with others. Parents and guardians should want to build the comfort level of their teen. Ideally, a child would go to their parents or guardians if they are uncomfortable with any interaction on a dating site (or anywhere online).
Report and Block
Most dating sites/social media apps will have report features which will allow for users to also disengage with someone that might be harassing or making them feel uncomfortable. Have a conversation about this kind of feature generally about all social media sites. Teens need to know they can report suspicious activity to the app. There may also be value in sharing conflict resolution methods that don’t involve blocking someone and instead teaching a child how to communicate their feelings, set appropriate boundaries and learn how to handle any kinds of communication.
Teens need to be guarded and not give out any identifying information such as an address or a phone number. Dating app users can be dangerous and may want to cause intentional physical and/or psychological harm. Role play and test your child about what information might be too much to share with people online.
Encourage any kind of meetings between people online for the first time (not just dating sites) in public places. Have your child develop a buddy system and make sure they have family or friends they can trust to talk to about risky situations. Establish a code word that can be included in a text or call that signals they feel unsafe on the date.
Monitor Emotional Health
Dating site users are likely to experience changes in happiness and sadness because of using the app. Users with an addiction to the app and who compare themselves to others may be subject to more negative feelings than those who are not addicted or do not compare themselves to others. Dating apps may decrease body image satisfaction and self-esteem. Talk to kids/teens about any noticeable changes in their mental health. Create weekly check-ins with them to talk risk-free about any issues in their lives. They should know that talking freely about their feelings, health or well-being, won’t land them in any trouble.
Dating apps mirror games, so it is easy to keep playing and forget about the matches from yesterday. Often, users are on the app for pure entertainment. Dating apps are user-friendly, simple and purposefully addictive, and they work hard to keep the app that way. If it’s thought that addiction may be at play, seek help from a professional therapist or start with a recommendation from a doctor.