A young woman of my acquaintance recently celebrated her 18th birthday by creating a Tinder profile. It was a milestone as unremarkable as getting her driver’s licence; exciting, sure, but also just what you do at a certain age.
Several of my friends’ teens use the app. Some have started relationships with other Tinder users, while others are casually dating.
Around 15 per cent of Australia’s population have used Tinder, and worldwide stats indicate that nearly 40 per cent of the app's users are aged 18 to 24.
Chances are, your teen will join at some point, too.
This can be confronting for a parent, even if your teen is of legal age. You might worry about what they’re doing, who they are meeting, and whether they are safe.
Try not to freak out. Tinder may feel like a huge step for people of our generation, but it’s really not a great leap for our children. Our kids have grown up connecting with each other online, sliding into each other’s DMs on Instagram and befriending people on Facebook they have never met in real life.
“Online friendships feel very safe to this generation of teens,” says Dani Klein, a psychologist who works primarily with adolescents. “They inhabit such a virtual world. So much of their relationships are based in the virtual space that it’s a very normal way of connecting with new people.”
Dating apps have received a bad rap in the media, and some high-profile violent crimes have been linked to Tinder in particular. But Tinder is not inherently more dangerous than any other online platform, and there are steps that can be taken to maximise the chances of a safe and positive experience.
All teens need to practice online and offline safety, as most will connect with "virtual" friends, whether on dating apps or on other platforms, at some point.
If your teen is planning to meet a Tinder match, they should meet in a public, well populated area. Ideally, they will tell you where they’re going and with who, but, if not, encourage them to establish a buddy system with a trusted friend.
They should give their friend their date’s name and telephone number, keep the friend informed about their whereabouts if they change venues, and ask them to check up on them within an hour or so.
All our teens need to be educated about respect and consent, but we need to remind our daughters, in particular, that they don’t owe anyone anything. Girls need to know that it’s okay to say no to anything – sex, a kiss, a second date, a friendship, another drink – and that spending money on a date doesn’t entitle anyone to favours.
The most important lesson for teens using Tinder, however, is to maintain a healthy degree of scepticism about their dates. Catfishing (where a person creates a fake social media account, often in order to deceive a particular person) is not uncommon, and catfishes can and do prey on vulnerable young people.
“Teens are at risk of catfishing because they are so used to chatting with people online and forming relationships without actually meeting in person,” says Dani Klein. “As a result, it’s a lot harder for them to know who to trust.”
Our role as parents is tricky, Klein explains, because we want to encourage caution, but not fear. “We don’t want to give our kids the message that no-one is trustworthy, but on the other hand not everyone is trustworthy!”
Our teens aren’t naïve, and most are aware that fake online profiles exist all over the web. Still, it’s easy to be fooled, and we should encourage our teens to have a live chat via FaceTime or Skype before meeting any online friend face to face.
We should also remind our teens that trust needs to be earned, and that having mutual Facebook friends or shared interests doesn’t mean a person is trustworthy.
Finally, let your teen know that you will come rescue them from any situation, no questions asked, no judgement. Our teens will make mistakes online or off, and sometimes all we can do as parents is catch them when they fall.