Teens taking selfieAs we raise our children, we strive to teach them healthy ways to handle peer pressure, to be thoughtful and respectful of others, and to navigate the world of relationships. However, our children are not growing up in the same world we did. Raising sons and daughters in the digital age can be very rewarding, but as our children take their friendships and dating online, parents need to address a host of new issues with their kids to help them have safe and healthy relationships in the virtual world.

Teens and Online Dating

During adolescence, the desire to form independent relationships outside of family is strong and an important part of maturing into adulthood. It’s only natural that our children, who expertly use the Internet and social media to connect daily, turn to the digital world to find or enhance these relationships too.

Our digital natives have witnessed many adults finding romantic matches online and now many consider the Internet as a legitimate way to forge new relationships or meet people. Even though online dating is typically reserved for older demographics, researchers are finding that younger generations are also getting in on the action.

It is believed that 7 percent of registered users on Tinder, a popular dating site, are between the ages of 13 and 17. They are not alone. Other dating sites, specifically Skout, has created a teen only sections for young people to interact and mingle.

And if your teen isn’t using these apps and websites, the chances are high that they are still posting their romantic explorations over social media for the world to see.

The Importance of Dating Safely Online

Technology allows easy access to crushes and romantic partners, and has created a new avenue for exploring sexual identity. The world of pixels and disappearing messages has resulted in a sexting revolution. Since this practice is so common experts acknowledge that sexting is normal development.

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” may have gone digital, but it can expose our children to cyberbullying, exploitation, harassment, and even charges of distributing or possessing child pornography.

This can be especially frightening when parents consider that research has found 70 percent of children hide their online activity from parents.  We need to realize that they see online dating as the new norm and need guidance on how to date safely online.

Empowering Teens to Date Safely Online

Abusive relationships don’t have to involve fist fights or screaming matches. Abuse can entail using technology to scare or bully someone, encourage feelings of insecurity, and create barriers between friends and family. This is mental or emotional abuse and the results can be devastating.

Below are seven ways you can help your teens, or other youth in your life, learn how to reduce risks and build healthy online relationship skills:

  1. Sit down with your son or daughter and help them set privacy settings and develop adequate passwords.
  2. Encourage them to never share passwords with friends or love interests. Many bullying or harassment cases involve former friends or partners who want revenge.
  3. Encourage them to only “friend” people they know in real life. Unfortunately, many cyberbullies and predators create fake identities to lure their victims.
  4. Have an important conversation about “love”. Love is complicated, but as a general rule it shouldn’t hurt or cause a lot of emotional pain. Encourage your child to openly discuss their relationships with you. If your teen doesn’t want to discuss in depth with you because it is awkward, encourage them to find a mentor to speak to. There are many programs in Canada that do exactly that.
  5. Teach social media etiquette early! A good rule to follow: only share what they would feel comfortable sharing in real life.
  6. Know that social media sites have no tolerance for cyberbullying or abusive conduct. Ensure that they know how to block people or report inappropriate activity.
  7. Encourage your teens to respect others’ privacy and choices. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine your own child as the bully, but many times parents are unaware that their teen is being abusive online. Talk to your teen and guide them to be empathetic and respectful of others.

Youth still need our input and guidance as they build and nurture relationships both in the real world and online. The most important thing we can do is to ensure that they know we’re there for them when they need it.

What is one thing you do to encourage safe online dating practices with your teen?

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