Kids and Online Dating Sites
Online data sites first surfaced in the early 2010s and have since exploded in popularity. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that more than ten percent of all respondents have been in a relationship that started through an online dating site. And, while the majority of online dating sites are strictly intended for adults, in recent years, there have been a handful of sites marketed towards a younger audience. Additionally, due to the lax enforcement mechanisms in place, children can easily access 18+ online dating sites by simply misrepresenting their age.
Parents of tweens and teens have good reason to be concerned about online dating sites, as they provide a number of risks.
What Dangers Do Dating Sites Pose to Children and Teens?
While online dating poses certain risks to adults, minors face all these risks and more. For example, adults and minors both run the risk of encountering someone who uses any information they obtain from other users to steal their identity. However, compared to many of the other risks minors face, identity theft is perhaps the most negligible.
Minors face the following risks when exposed to online dating sites:
- Exposure to online grooming,
- Revenge porn,
- Emotional abuse,
- Sexual assault and rape, and
- Reduced social interaction.
Many parents also have general concerns about minors being exposed to sexualized language and content that, while not illegal, is inappropriate for the child’s age.
Can Teens Sign Up for an Online Dating Site?
Of course, just because an online dating app’s terms of service state that someone must be a legal adult to open an account doesn’t necessarily stop teens from ignoring these rules. Thus, absent some enforcement mechanism, children and teens can access an online dating site by claiming to meet the age requirement.
What Are Dating Sites Doing to Prevent Access By Younger Teens?
Historically, online dating apps have done little to prevent minors from accessing their platforms. That said, Tinder has created an age verification process that conditionally approves a new account pending review of the applicant’s driver’s license or identification. However, the age verification process is only required in Japan, although the company has toyed with the idea of rolling out age verification to other markets as well.
Other than age verification, dating sites primarily focus their efforts on identifying potentially harmful interactions between all users, including minors. For example, Tinder’s Community Guidelines state users must be 18 to use Tinder and that the company does not allow images of unaccompanied minors. The company suggests that if “you see a profile that includes an unaccompanied minor, encourages harm to a minor, or depicts a minor in a sexual or suggestive way, please report it immediately.” The Community Guidelines of OKCupid, Match.com, Hinge, and Plenty of Fish are all very similar, as all of these companies are owned by Match Group.
Bumble’s Community Guidelines are also similar, stating, “Bumble is for 18+ years, therefore we don’t allow kids to be alone in photos as representatives of their parents on Bumble. In addition, all children must be completely clothed.” Bumble also prohibits posting any content that is “harmful to minors.”
Many dating sites, although not all of them, also prevent anyone who has been convicted of a felony, sex crime or crime of violence from creating an account. However, unless a particular concern is brought to the company’s attention, there is no enforcement mechanism. In fact, none of the major dating sites perform criminal background checks on new or existing users.
How Can Parents Keep Children and Teens Safe on Online Dating Sites?
Parents hoping to keep their children off of dating sites have a few tools at their disposal. First, and perhaps most importantly, is establishing an open line of communication with a child about the risks of online dating sites. Of course, parents are likely to be confronted with an “it won’t happen to me” attitude when raising these issues. However, clearly and honestly explaining the risks and what they can lead to can at least provide children with the idea that there are bad actors out there and how to recognize them.
Second, parents can block certain websites on home computers and even minors’ cell phones. Being proactive and blocking websites is generally seen as more respectful of a child’s privacy than constantly monitoring their online behavior; however, parents who suspect their children are being groomed or are involved in a potentially concerning relationship should review the warning signs of grooming and sexual abuse.