If your teen is interested in romantic or physical relationships, they’re probably already engaged in some form of online dating. During adolescence, children begin to form an identity and a sense of self, and it is natural that an interest in dating, intimacy and romantic love will follow. It’s no surprise that dating is online when 95% of teens have a smartphone.
Both online and offline, dating helps children develop social skills and grow emotionally. The increased use of social media due to COVID has changed social norms around dating. Online dating isn’t just “dating” anymore. The prevalence of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and many others has made “swiping right” part of the common lexicon. Dating apps, as well as virtual activities like games and social media, can all provide meaningful ways to connect with others to create and maintain healthy relationships.
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Can children really spend time online?
Making friends online doesn’t have to start with a dating app. Online and IRL are a world for teenagers. Don’t be surprised if your teens keep video chat open on one device while they play Roblox or Minecraft with friends on another. Many platforms allow gamers to organize online spaces into digital rooms where IRL and online friends hang out just like they would in their bedroom at home.
Despite our concerns about increased screen time, research suggests that bullying, cyberbullying, sexting and fighting have shown little to no increase. However, anxiety and depression increased significantly. Social media can provide children with positive social experiences that maintain or restore emotional balance by helping them feel connected.
Are virtual relationships real?
Online relationships can be “hyperpersonal” and actually seem as strong as face-to-face relationships. Online interaction ranges from synchronous video, like Facetime, to completely asynchronous exchanges, where the time between interactions gives children time to think before responding. This lag can ease some of the common social anxieties of adolescence, from shyness to feeling speechless. It can also remove the focus on external things, like looks, and allow teens to get to know themselves as people first.
The ability to connect with more authenticity increases trust and closeness. Like love letters throughout history, texts, emails, videos, and DMs can be saved. They give the receiver time to read a message over and over again, increasing the sense of connection.
What are the benefits of online dating?
Like hanging out, online dating can be a source of connection and a chance to learn about relationships. Teenagers spend a lot of time texting and messaging potential love interests on social media. These different communication channels can make dating easier, as teens can try things out and observe the behavior of others, especially anxious or shy children.
How do I know if my teen is ready for an online relationship or date?
Dating, online or offline, is developmentally appropriate. Thanks to COVID, many teenagers have had their first relationship online because they can’t go out. Flirting online is common, but the rules of online dating are unclear, making dating even more complex and stressful for a teenager than it already was.
The best thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open. Help your kids develop healthy, caring relationships of mutual respect by modeling the behaviors you want to see online and offline. Dating teens is very emotionally intense, and even online dating can feel as real as IRL, and breakups are just as painful. Be a safe place for your child to bring their questions or share their experiences.
What are the risks of online dating?
The best way to protect your child is to address online relationships before they become a problem. Talk to your kids about what dating is like and how it’s being affected by social media (not to mention a pandemic). It’s probably as confusing for them as it is for you. Dating rules are quite confusing IRL. Starting conversations before they’re needed can take away a lot of the emotion and potential embarrassment, because it’s not that personal yet.
Many parents worry about predators, but there are other, much more likely risks. Sexting, for example, while not an epidemic, does happen. It’s more likely to happen in emerging adults, but your child needs to understand the serious social and psychological consequences of non-consensual sexting and the potential legal issues. State laws vary, but just having sexts on your phone can result in felony charges for child pornography and lifelong placement on the sex offender list.
Teenagers may have unrealistic ideas about dating and relating to media and peers. Dating is not what it looks like in a Disney movie (or in porn). It’s easy to believe the things we want to be true. This trend in online dating can have two consequences: 1) it can make teens vulnerable to scams, coercion, and manipulation, or 2) it can create unachievable stereotypes and norms that create unhealthy or unhealthy relationships. durable.
See my previous article, “8 Ways to Help Your Kids Keep Online Dating Safe and Positive,” for specific strategies.