Swiping Right and Hooking Up: Teen Dating Apps

Teens today use social media apps to widen their social circles, meet new friends, and keep up with their social scene. It should be no surprise, then, that they are using apps to date. And yes, for the parents reading this- it’s definitely uncomfortable to think that our kids are using these apps to search for “romance.” So, let’s delve deeper into the subject and get more comfortable with the idea that your teen maybe using a dating app and how to deal with it.

Let’s keep in mind, though, that many teens use Instagram and Snapchat to find “dates” and “hook-up.” The difference here is that they are not downloading apps that are specifically known as “dating apps.”  Also, just because you know your teen isn’t actively using these apps, their friends might be, so it’s always a good idea to know what is going on, whether your teen is using these apps or not.

Let’s start by going over the very real risks associated with teen dating apps. Here are a few we found on Common Sense Media:

  • Most of the “make-new-friends” apps aren’t intended for teens, but it’s easy to get around age restrictions, because registration generally involves just entering a birth date. This means adults can pose as teens — and vice versa.
  • Most are location-based– meaning they connect with people who are near you — which increases the potential for a real-life meeting with a stranger.
  • Because teens often share multiple social media handles on these apps, they can give strangers access to more personal information and intimate conversations.
  • Some of them have mature content like drugs and nudity.
  • The barrier to entry is very low: They’re mostly free and allow essentially anyone to join.
  • Less dangerous but still troubling is the heavy emphasis on looks as a basis for judgment.In researching this article, many experts suggested that upon finding these apps on your child’s phone, discuss the dangers they may pose. Which, obviously, is the correct way to proceed, but we also suggest discussing these dangers as soon as your child receives a device and is trusted to use social media. Once your child begins using social media, communicate with them what you consider to be off-limits and why. Discuss openly and honestly about what is appropriate use of their device and what is not. If necessary, you can try to prevent your teen from installing dating apps by using parental controls or setting up restrictions that block off-limit sites or require them to get approval for all apps they download. But, the main idea here is communication. Talk to your kids about what is okay and what is not okay. Tell them the real consequences of risky behavior. As a parent, if you have rules and boundaries, stick to them.Here’s a very short list of “make new friends apps” or “hook-up apps” that are popular with teens, whether they are geared toward that age group or not. Again, this list was found on Common Sense Media:

    Skout: The Skout app and site offer several ways to connect with other users, including “saying hi” via someone’s profile, watching livestreams (or going live), chatting with people who have “liked” you back, or using the “Buzz” feature to access a feed of local users (that appears to be a Facebook feed) who are mostly posting selfies. It’s also location-based.

    What parents need to know: In its Safety Tips section, Skout claims to separate teens from adults so they can’t interact, but that no longer seems to be the case. And, like most of the other dating apps here, it’s easy to enter a fake birth date anyway.

    MyLOL is owned by the same developers as Spotafriend, but it works differently and is also a website. Users are supposed to be between 13 and 19. You can add friends, look at profiles and chat with people, or visit the Shouts feature, which is a live feed of other users’ comments, which are frequently just “hmu” (“hit me up,” slang for “send me a message”). Teens can use settings to let only friends see their profiles, but they can filter who can chat with them only by gender and age. There are also video ads.

    What parents need to know: There are plenty of scantily clad teens here, too, and one profile for a “17-year-old” indicated she’s actually 32. Also, there are profiles with no pictures, so it’s impossible to tell the user’s age at all. A few profiles had references to marijuana use, and many teens shared their handles for other social media platforms, making more personal information available to strangers.

    Tinder: Tinder is a dating app that lets you browse pictures of potential matches within a certain-mile radius of your location. You can register via Facebook or a phone number (a phone number is required either way). Users are prompted to enter a school name; nearby colleges come up as choices, but you can skip that step. And you can choose to see profiles from ages 18 to 50.

    What parents need to know: You swipe right to “like” a photo or left to “pass.” If a person whose photo you “liked” swipes “like” on your photo, too, the app allows you to message each other. Meeting up (and possibly hooking up) is pretty much the goal. Many apps have copied this swiping style, so if you see it in another app, it’s best to take a second look.

    MeetMe: MeetMe’s tagline, “Meet, chat, and have fun with new people,” says it all. It’s also both an app and a site. Skout and MeetMe are affiliated, so users can share their profiles between them. There are several ways to interact with other users: You can chat with locals, watch livestreams (or go live yourself), chat, or use the “Quick” feature to “meet people face-to-face right now.” Users can also give each other virtual gifts that cost real money.

    What parents need to know: Though a list of safety tips pops up when you log in, there’s a ton of mature content, an emphasis on meeting strangers, and various ways to spend money. During our review there were lots of scantily clad women livestreaming and lots of profiles with various drugs as one of the profile pictures. Like many others, the service says it’s for people 18 and up, but there’s no age verification, and many users post handles to other social media accounts.

    In the coming weeks, check here at the Project B3 blog for more updates on Teen Dating Apps. There are quite a few!