Making Teen Dating Safer For Kids
In today's world, there are various ways in which teens can meet each other, from school to parties to online chat forums to dating apps. While this diversity of options is beneficial because it allows teenagers to easily widen their social circles and meet new friends, it’s also important to be aware of the potential dangers and downsides of meeting people online as opposed to “real life.” Teenagers are still growing and developing, and therefore may still be naïve. They might not realize that the people they are meeting may be a bad influence at best or, at worst, dangerous. Parents can help make teen dating safer for their kids by teaching them about healthy relationships and to be cautious of the people they befriend. You and your teen can and should take every precaution to ensure that they stay safe online.
Teen Dating: Meeting People Online
Meeting people online does not carry the same stigma that it used to, but that doesn't mean that you and your teenagers shouldn't still be careful. If your teen wants to meet up with someone that they have been speaking to online or on a dating app, it may be wise if they only do so with other people, whether that is a group of friends or at least one other friend. Before the meet-up takes place, make sure to ask your teen as many questions as are necessary to determine important details you might need to know. These details might reveal whether the person your teen is meeting is indeed who they say they are.
Of course, there is some level of trust involved in this process, as you need to be able to trust your teen to tell you the truth about the private chats they have been having with this person online, and to trust their gut as well. You can never know for sure who they're meeting because some people are exceptionally adept at lying to bait unsuspecting teenagers. It is for this reason that bringing a friend or group of friends along to meet a potential future dating partner can be a wise idea.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
As a parent, you should always know when your child is engaging with a potential romantic partner online, especially for younger teens (although such communication is important for older teens as well). Some online dating apps have an age limit feature for their users, as age restrictions can add an additional level of safety to such interactions. For example, the Yubo age limit is thirteen. However, such in-app safety features cannot always guarantee a continuation of safety when in-person interactions begin.
If a teenager wants to meet up with a romantic interest they met online, parents should always be aware of where their child is going and what time to expect them back. It’s not uncommon to have a curfew in place either, as an extra safeguard. Curfews can prevent parents from worrying and alert them to a potential problem should their child not arrive home on time.
Teens can be extra helpful by texting their parents when they're on their way home. This way, if the parents know that the teen is at the movies, which is 20 minutes away, they know to expect the teen within a half-hour or so. If it has been an hour, and the teen is still not home, then the parents are within their right to worry and to take steps to try and find out what is going on.
Staying Away From Drugs And Alcohol
Some teens try alcohol before they are legally allowed to drink and use drugs despite such actions being illegal. Aside from the illegality, drug and alcohol use may impact a teenager’s ability to make rational choices, which may encourage the teen to take risks they normally wouldn't. Such risks can heighten the safety concerns around teen dating. A teenager who is inhibited by consuming alcohol or drugs may not be able to pick up on warning signs that a person they met online is behaving in a dangerous way. If a teen who has been drinking or doing drugs engages in sexual activity, they may forget what they learned in sex ed and fail to practice safe sex, which can lead to unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.
It is naïve to think that teenagers won't drink. The temptation to use alcohol or drugs is strong, especially when teenagers are in a social situation where many of their friends are drinking and "having a good time." Communicating with your teen about the safety risks of alcohol and drug use may impact their decision to engage with such substances, potentially meaning they think twice about drinking, or don’t drink as much as they would have otherwise, decreasing the likelihood of dangerous situations playing out when teens combine substance use and romantic interests.
Are You Concerned About Your Child’s Online Safety?
Going Out Vs. Staying In
After the teen has gone with a friend or group of friends to meet up with the person they found online, they may want to go out on a date with that person. Even if all seems to be okay, it is still wise for the dates to be held publicly for a time.
Some potential safe ideas for a date could include:
Getting coffee at a local coffee shop
Spending time at the mall
Going out to eat at a restaurant where customers sit inside to eat (rather than a drive-thru)
Seeing a movie at the theater
Until the two potential romantic partners know each other well, which varies from situation to situation, teens should avoid hanging out at each other's houses when no one else is home or meeting up in secluded spots. You can also communicate to your teen that they can always call you to come pick them up if they ever begin to feel uncomfortable or uneasy with what is being proposed. If they are able to drive themselves, they should also feel comfortable leaving the situation on their own when needed.
Signs Of Teen Dating Violence
Teen dating violence is an issue in many teenage romantic relationships, whether between partners that met online or in relationships that begin in more traditional settings. It is important to be aware of the signs of dating violence, such as angry outbursts, behavior that belittles your teen, or tactics meant to drive a wedge between your teen and their friends and family. Similarly, if your teen’s romantic partner tends to blame everyone else for their problems and threatens to hurt your teen at any point (or, worse, actually does hurt them), these behaviors are red flags. It’s important for your teen to seek help should they find themselves in a violent or abusive relationship.
If you are a teen and you don't feel comfortable turning to your friends or family for help, you can try confiding in another adult that you trust. This adult could be your school counselor, a mentor, or a coach. It might also be a social worker or one of your teachers. Failing that, you can try reaching out to a domestic abuse hotline. You are not alone. Many teens experience relationship violence, and there are people out there who can help you.
Teen Dating Violence Facts
Teen dating violence is more of a widespread problem than many people realize. For instance:
About 1.5 million boys and girls of high school age admit to being physically abused by someone with whom they were in a romantic relationship.
50 percent of young adults who are victims of sexual or physical abuse will attempt suicide.
Girls are more likely to be abused by their partners than boys, especially girls between the ages of 16 and 24.
Only about a third of teens who were involved in an abusive relationship told someone about it.
Teens in abusive relationships often suffer long-term mental health concerns, such as suicidal or violent thoughts, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.
Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). TDVAM was established to help raise awareness of the abuse that teens and twenty-somethings often face in their romantic relationships.
In addition to physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, dating violence also extends to digital abuse as well. Targeting someone on social media is considered a form of abuse, which means that more of us are survivors of dating violence than we may realize. Dating violence is a common reality for teens and young adults, with one in three teens experiencing some form of abuse in a romantic relationship before they even reach adulthood. About half of all college-age women have reported experiencing dating violence at some point in their lifetime. Being aware of the high prevalence of abuse in romantic relationships can help teens stay aware and defend themselves in future relationships.
Online Therapy With BetterHelp
Are you a survivor of dating violence? Are you the parent of a teenager who is starting to date, and you're worried about the people they’re meeting online? In either of these cases, connecting with an online therapist via BetterHelp can be helpful.
Abusive relationships can isolate people from their friends and family, giving survivors the feeling that they have no one to turn to. Online therapy allows you to confide in someone in the way you feel most comfortable with— whether over the phone, on a video chat, or through in-app messaging. You can connect on your own time, whether you’re out and about or in your home.
The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
Online therapy can be a viable option for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). One study published by the National Institutes of Health, under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, assessed the effectiveness of an online therapeutic intervention aimed at people exposed to IPV. Those who participated in the study experienced a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. They also reported greater quality of life.
Teenagers can meet trustworthy lifelong friends and romantic partners online. Such relationships can help teenagers grow emotionally and develop supportive communities. However, the internet remains a risky place, and safety is not guaranteed. Parents can help their teens by teaching them healthy relationship skills, as well as safety behaviors such as trusting their gut, staying in groups, and keeping the lines of communication open. If you or your teen is struggling with the effects of an abusive relationship, regardless of how the relationship originated, it’s important to seek help. An online therapist can support you or your loved ones through the emotional impacts of violence and abuse.
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