Each month we alert you to a site that you need to be aware of to protect your teenaged social media users.  This month we are warning you about: Tinder/dating sites.

This month we are alerting you to the danger teens face from dating websites. And, if you were unaware, teens are indeed using dating websites.  Tinder may be one of the most popular, but this warning applies to all dating websites that do not verify its users’ ages. So, that includes sites such as Grindr, Skout, Adam4Adam, and Match, among many others.

Clearly, dating sites are convenient, effective, and entertaining for adults, and that is why they are thriving online.  But, they are simply not safe for teens under 18.  The level of safety of dating sites for any given teen is not necessarily a measure of the maturity or common sense of the teen, though those are certainly factors. Rather, the most serious danger comes from the determined child predators and sophisticated human trafficking operations that aggressively mine dating sites specifically, and social media generally, for any minor that they can get to venture outside his or her home or community for a meeting.

Now, we do not have specific statistics to gauge the scale of the threat we are facing when it comes to teens on dating sites, but dating sites are certainly a legitimate threat for minors.  We know generally that about 82% of child sex crimes originate from social media where predators and traffickers are able to gain sufficient information on minors to prey upon them.  And, there are also plenty of verified news reports documenting the efforts of child predators and traffickers on dating sites.  (Here is one example.)

Given this concern, we need to be acutely aware that dating sites, by their very nature, cause teens to violate our top safety guidelines when it comes to social media use:

  • Do not meet anyone in person that you have only met online.
  • Do not share your location.
  • Do not share personal information outside of your known network.

What can you do? You should consider restricting all dating sites from your teens’ phones by using the iOS or Android parental controls.  However, be aware that determined teens will likely be able to find ways around such restrictions.  That is why we also strongly recommend having a conversation with your child, especially with your older teens, so that they are aware of and have a real understanding of these dangers.

If your teen is interested in exploring romantic relationships and you have determined that he or she is mature enough to do so, then encourage your child to participate in safe and vetted activities or student groups where he or she can meet new people.  If teens are not meeting new people at their school, explore activities and programs outside of school.  Not only is this old-fashioned way of meeting new peers safer, but it also helps to develop critical social skills and enables teens to explore new interests.  As an added bonus for your social media-loving teen, social media can be used to search for such programs.