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Teen Dating Apps: What Parents Should Know About Teens Dating Online

Are teens secretly using 18+ dating apps? How to keep teenagers safe from dangerous online dating situations and unsafe social media relationships.
Teenage girl with mobile phone in bed
Updated: May 9, 2022
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What do parents need to know about teen dating apps? You blinked and suddenly your Elmo-loving toddler who wanted nothing more than to slather finger paint across your dining room walls and hold your hand is suddenly a teen. Now that they’re older, your kiddo is sure they’re ready for a real relationship. While you might assume that they’ll meet their first crush in real life at school, it’s just as likely that they’ll find someone on a social network or via an app. 

Related: 5 Ways Social Media Affects Kids’ Mental Health

Do Teens Really Meet Online? 

Online dating app in mobile phone

If you think online dating is just for the over-18 set, the stats might surprise you. Even though more teens meet their partners in person, of those who are in or have been in romantic relationships, nearly one-quarter of adolescents ages 13 through 17 met their romantic interest online, according to the Pew Research Center

While only 24 percent of young people actually meet potential matches online, the numbers are higher when it comes to flirting or showing an interest in romantic relationships. The Pew Research Center’s stats show that 55 percent of teens have flirted with a potential partner (or hookup) on social media. Half of teens have friended other young people on Facebook or social network sites and 47 percent liked or commented on posts as a way of showing their interest. 

Even though Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms are popular ways for young people to connect online, these aren’t the only ways your teen may meet a potential partner. Dating sites, dating apps, and messaging apps are also common ways that kids meet in the cyber world. But this doesn’t mean that your teen might only virtually hang with kids their own age. Many of the popular dating apps have age restrictions. While it might seem like an 18-plus app or dating site would quickly kick your child out, some don’t have strict age verification measures—and some teens are less than honest about their age. 

What Are the Risks of Using Apps and Social Media for Online Dating Purposes? 

It seems like your teen spends more than half their life online. So, why are dating apps such an issue for adolescents? Technology has made it easy for people to connect. While that has plenty of pluses, it also comes with drawbacks and hazards. Unlike face-to-face scenarios, the online dating world is filled with anonymity. Your teen, and everyone else on a dating app or social media site, can become anyone they want. For a young, inexperienced dater, this can result in catfishing and other related risks.

What exactly is catfishing? It’s been years since you’ve dated—and catfishing sounds more like a weekend activity than anything that has to do with romance. The anonymous environment of the online dating world makes it possible for anyone to assume someone else’s identity. This allows adults and other teens to engage in cyberbullying, lure, or scam unsuspecting children into fake relationships. Along with luring minors into risky situations, some adults or teens catfish for a profit. In 2021 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that individuals suffered a collective $547 million worth of catfishing-related losses. The cute guy or girl your teen thinks they’re helping out with a Venmo transfer may actually catfish them into a costly romantic mistake. 

While fleecing your kiddo for cash is certainly something you want to avoid, online dating can take an even darker turn. Your child sends a suggestive selfie or starts sexting someone they think is their age. But as it turns out, that perfect profile doesn’t belong to a 15-year-old. Instead, it’s a much older adult who now wants to meet up in person. The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program (or ICAC) conducted over 136,800 investigations against suspected online sexual predators and made 10,300-plus arrests in 2021. These stats show the severity of the problem—and the need for smart, careful, and parent-guided Internet use. 

What Dating Apps and Sites Do Teens Use? 

young guy and a girl sitting on the street, who have one pair of headphones for two, look into a red smartphone with a smile.

You’re a proactive parent and want to know more about how to prevent online dating-related problems. But you’re not sure which sites to worry about and how to monitor your teen’s smartphone or Internet use. You check their iPhone for dating apps and find absolutely nothing. Are you in the clear? Maybe—or maybe not. If they use Snapchat, Facebook, TikTok, or a video chat app, they may meet potential hookups online. Many of these social media platforms have a low age restriction and may allow children as young as 13 to have a profile. But this doesn’t mean your 13-year-old can’t or won’t meet a 30-something posing as a tween. 

Parental control apps for social media, such as Bark and Qustodio, can help you to monitor social media use. Even though these apps allow you to track your child online, you still need to have an open and honest discussion with your teen about safe online dating, social networks, and the use of dating apps. Yes, they might roll their eyes and groan, “Uggggh! I know.” But they may not really know the dangers of meeting new friends or potential matches online. 

Along with the standard social media sites, teens may use dating apps for adults and versions that are supposedly just for the under 18 set. These include everything from Tinder and Bumble to Yubo and MyLOLl. The apps teens are most likely to use for dating or hookups include:

  • Tinder - Even though you’re way out of the dating scene, it’s pretty likely that you’ve heard about Tinder. This swipe right, swipe left app has a minimum age restriction of 18.
  • Bumble - Like Tinder, it’s likely you’ve also already heard of Bumble. Also like Tinder, this dating app also requires users to self-certify that they’re 18 and up. 
  • Yubo - You what? This app is all about live streams and claims to create a cyberspace where everyone belongs. According to Yubo’s community guidelines, users are forbidden from using a false birthday or impersonating someone else (a.k.a. supposedly no catfishing here). Kids as young as 13 can create an account, provided they have parental permission. 
  • MyLOL - The site calls itself the “#1 teen network in the world” and the “#1 teen dating site” in the USA.” Created for teens ages 13 through 19, MyLOL has a dating app (available for iPhone or Android) that allows kids to chat, share pics, and even private message one another. Users self-certify that they are at least 13 and not any older than 19 when they sign up. The app does ban users who lie about their age. 
  • Skout - This 18+ app gives users a way to connect and meet up locally. Like other dating or meetup apps, teens only need to self-certify that they meet the age requirement. 
  • Hot or Not - It’s all in the name. This “hot” or “not” rating app was rebranded as Chat & Date. So, while your parent-friends may still know it by its original name, you’ll need to look for the new version on your kiddo’s phone.
  • MeetMe - Chat in real-time, live stream, or just find new people to hang with. This app does have an age restriction of 18 and up. 

How Can You Help Your Teen? 

Talk, talk, and more talk. It’s not always comfortable to talk about your teen’s budding love life. But the risks of online dating and sexual predators make this discussion non-negotiable. Check out some of the top dating apps before you start a conversation. No, this doesn’t mean you should creep online and create a fake profile. Instead, go to the site or app’s main page, read the reviews, and browse the community guidelines or standards. All of the dating apps clearly spell out who can and can’t use their services and how they collect info/verify the user. 

Make sure your teen knows to never give out their phone number to a stranger online, never agrees to meet up with anyone in real life, and never send a suggestive selfie or sext. For that matter, make sure they know what a stranger is in relation to online dating apps and sites. 

Teens are new to romantic relationships and have a naivete that could leave them vulnerable to a catfishing or predatory attempt. If your teen does form a strong bond with one person and wants to meet them in person, you may want to conduct a mini background check first. Insist that the date happens in a public place and supervise the date if you’re really concerned. You should drive your teen to and from the date and meet their potential partner IRL. 

If something feels off, it’s perfectly okay to take away your teen’s phone or use parental blocks to stop dating apps or social media use. Your teen might not like these restrictions—but someday they’ll thank you for keeping them safe.

Do you want to learn more about parental monitoring apps? Check out our picks for the 15 Best Parental Control Apps to Monitor Kids’ and Tweens’ Phone Use.  

Erica Loop

About Erica

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Erica is a mom and former preschool teacher with degrees in… Read more

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