Teens & Online Dating: What Every Parent Should Know
Ah, dating. Everyone can remember their first romance, so they say, and all those memorable moments spent with those who earned the title of boyfriend or girlfriend at some point, back in the day. All that fun had alongside various dates, all the awkward moments that sometimes end up still haunting us now and then when we reminisce about past romances, and gosh, the heartache. Everyone has gone through at least a moment of disappointment, to say the least, when it comes about expressing our interest in someone, or learning that they might not feel the same about us as we feel about them – and when you sit and think back on all of that, you suddenly realize that your child will sooner or later start going through similar experiences as well. Sure, everyone has their own luck when it comes to dating, and your experiences and events will not be the same as the ones your child will go through, but in any case, the simple fact that your teen will start dating someday is enough to send plenty of parents in a slight panic.
It may seem like they grew up too fast, that just yesterday they were still running around wreaking havoc in their diapers and making a mess everywhere in the house with their toys and food, and now they’re suddenly going out with their friends so frequently and talking about X or Y who looked at them during Maths today or something, or alternatively they might not even speak about their crush, especially if they’re embarrassed about the whole ordeal. However, one thing is for certain: every teenager deals with feelings differently and each of them expresses their interest for another person in their own way, and that’s the first thing a parent should keep in mind when their teen starts dating.
Because of that simple fact, getting to find out and know about your teen’s romantic interest might not come so easily at first, unless they approach you about it all to tell you about them, of course. However, unless you have a close relationship with your teen, it’s more likely that they will just keep to themselves when it comes to who they’re crushing on, or who they are talking with online and all.
Online dating, though, comes with its ups and downs just like face to face dating does. With social media sites being so popular and having become the norm among teens, as well as other dating apps, it’s no surprise that making friends online has become such an easy feat to achieve, or at least the lack of additional barriers makes it all seem easier and like a less stressful, no brainer thing compared to having to meet up in person with others and engage in face to face social interactions that can get emotionally draining fast. Despite the convenience factor, online dating comes with the biggest problem parents know of: the person behind the screen.
In this age and day, there’s always the possibility that the person you’re chatting online with is pretending to be someone else, or has a hidden agenda. As much as pretending to be someone else is becoming a more difficult task with apps like Snapchat or Instagram taking over, where you basically have to show off your face in order to get any attention from others, the lack of knowledge regarding the other person’s intentions still remains a reasonable concern. That’s the main worry that passes through a parent’s mind when they hear their teen has online friends or wants to meet up with someone they met online, but online dating is not all a nightmare scenario if you know how to go about it properly, and if you keep an open communication front with your teen about it.
Something every parent should know about teens and online dating is that they don’t have to freak out every time their phone announces that they’ve received a message or every time they see them giggling at their screens. “Dates” won’t be messaging them 24/7, so if you’re thinking about limiting your teen’s phone time or other punishments applied for no reason – then don’t do it. They need a social life as much as anyone else in order for their still-developing brains to function properly, and it’s better to educate them about the risks of online dating rather than forbidding them from socialization altogether and further pushing them to rebel or go to extreme lengths to regain their freedom, even if it means going behind your back or just developing resentful feelings towards you.
Talk to them and find out what their expectations are about online dating, and what they think a date entails, as well as educate them on how to deal with rejection (because, let’s be real, everyone experiences that at least once) and how to handle people who become too bothersome or start threading on the level of a potential harasser. That way, they will be able to avoid the majority of unwanted situations and conversations as well as do their best to stay out of unnecessary conflicts.
You should also keep in mind that just because they tried to meet someone from the online medium now, it doesn’t mean it will always be the same. Sometimes, teens just want to give new things a try, such as maybe going in the park with that girl they share a lot of things with, but it doesn’t mean it will become a habit to just meet up with everyone they befriend online. Depending on how their first online dating experience goes, they will be more or less inclined to try it another time. And if they’re talking to someone today, it doesn’t mean they will automatically want to go out with them the next day – very often, chatting online with people remains online, either because they find it more fun to just talk there, or because they aren’t invested enough to want to meet up yet, so don’t freak out over each new person who messages them.
Another thing parents need to keep an eye out for is for when their teen is facing rejection or any sort of complications with their online interests. When you’re separated by the screen of a phone, it’s very easy to cease all communication with another person, either by blocking them on the site used to talk on or by being a little too blunt and trying your best at explaining the situation to the other one. As such, teens are more prone to becoming anxious, frustrated or actually depressed because of the poor quality of the interaction provided by social media – especially if break-ups and heartaches happen over texts. Parents need to keep an eye out for drastic changes in the teen’s behavior for that and step in whenever it looks like an intervention is needed, in order to properly help them get through whatever is upsetting them.
Lastly, make sure your teen knows who the person they’re talking with is and that if they want to meet up with them in person, they know how to leave the hangout spot if they feel uncomfortable at any point during the date. Not only that, but make sure that they know what’s appropriate and what is a definite “no” coming from anyone they may be dating, so they don’t end up in a bad spot.
In the end, teens will always say they know what they’re doing, so your job as a parent here doesn’t mean that you have to forbid them from gaining various experiences, but your job remains that of protecting them and pulling them back when and if they seem to be straying from the proper path they were on before. Improve your communication with your teen as much as you can, if you’d like to be kept up to date with their love interests, but try not to suffocate them or be against them at all times. Just remember: this is as much of a new experience for them as it is for you, and the only way to learn how to deal with it is to go through it slowly, so be there for them when they need your support and advice and your teen will be there to tell you all about the progress they’re making with their crush!