When we think of dating apps like Tinder or platforms like eHarmony, we think about romantic experiences or funny dating disaster stories our friends have shared. What we don’t normally associate with dating platforms are children and young people.
Dating apps are designed for adultsbutonline dating culture has steadily become normalisedas the socially acceptable way to connect with and meet others.
These apps aren’t designed for children and young people, so there are limited safeguards in place to protect them. Children and young people frequenting these platformsmay be exposed to age-inappropriate interactions and potential harm.
By understandingthe functionsof such apps and the attitudes, behaviours and culture that exist on some these platforms,you’ll be better able to support and protect those in your care.
This article explains the typical functions of dating apps, the risks and concerns, and how you can protect the children in your care with our top tips.
Age Verification and Dating Apps
Age Verification is a set of technical processes that platforms use to restrict access to underaged users. There are various forms, of which almost all are easily bypassed,rendering them ineffective. Age Verification relies on honesty, and where a child or adult wants to access a platform not designed for their age group, they can usually do so with ease.
Common Functions of Dating Apps
Each dating app will have slightly different features and user interfaces,but there are some commonalities:
Profiles – Many apps require a profile where users pitch themselves, like dating adverts. It’s common to share interests, pick-up lines or job titles.
Swiping Feedback – Users swipe right to indicate interest in a profile and swipe left to dislike. If two users both swipe right, they will be ‘matched’.
Private Messaging – After ‘matching’ users can then chat privately, although some apps do not require matching for this to take place.
Location Sharing – Most dating apps work by location with GPS and show profiles of users nearby, usually within a predetermined range.
Preference Filters – Most apps have the functionality to filter by age, gender and sexuality.
Video messaging – This is a newer edition to some dating apps, for example Tinder.
Risks and Areas of Concern
Some young people will believe they can use dating apps safely, however, there are a number of issues we’re concerned about.
Most dating apps let you connect with users ‘nearby’, which increases the likelihood of meeting and communicating with strangers.
GPS provides a relatively accurate indication of a user’s likely location which can be misused.
Users can also reveal more information than they had initially intended via the photos that they have uploaded. This may be due to data contained within the photo or clues from the photo background, for example, recognising a photo has been taken in a particularplace or with a familiar item of clothing or uniform.
There have been violent hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people where the perpetrator used location-based dating apps to target victims.
2. Linking to Other Accounts
It is common for users to share their other social media accounts(Instagram and Snapchat are two popular examples of this) in conversationsor via information in bios or profiles.
This also means that predators involved in grooming and exploitation can harvest additional information from a range of sites, and indeed encourage victims to move from dating platforms to environments that provide the predator with even greater levels of protection i.e. disappearing messaging and encryption.
3. Harmful / Inappropriate Interactions
There is a risk of exposure to adult conversations about alcohol and drugs and harmful content including sexual imagery.
Young LGBTQ+ people who may feel isolated might be drawn toward dating apps. Yet, this form of support and sexualised digital environment is likely to be age-inappropriate for many LGBTQ+ young people.
LGBTQ+ young people may be more likely to hide their use of dating apps from the adults in their lives as they may not be ‘out’ yet, meaning they may be less likely to seek support if things go wrong.
4. Bullying, Exploitation and Extortion
Catfishing is a common phenomenon on dating apps. This relates to the use of a false identityto trick another person into revealing information or images of themselves.
Intimate images can be used for blackmail and extortion purposes. This is sometimes known as sextortion. Some predators who trick children into sharing images during the grooming process will often use the threat of sharing those images to coerce the child into sending more or to meet in person.
Young people may also use catfishing to cyberbully another e.g. where they capture an image and share it to humiliate the victim.
You can use our top tips below to plan open, honest and supportive conversations with the young people in your care about dating apps.
PAUSE – Gather the facts on dating apps before approaching this issue sensitively with the children in your care. You might want to consider the young person’s existing understanding of these apps. You couldconsider asking them if they know about anyone who uses online dating apps.
THINK– Avoid naming any apps as curiosity could incite them to try them out. If you discover a young person in your care is using or thinking about using a dating app,you should avoid strong emotional reactions. This may discourage them from approaching you about problems in the future.
TALK – Talk about what makes a healthy relationship, including age-appropriate relationships and remind them that they should not do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Discuss why dating apps are reserved for 18+ and the potential dangers and identify safespaces where young people can meet peers with similar interests.
CHECK – Check the young people in your care know what to do if something upsets them and that they can identify the trusted adults in their life.
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