By Maxine Wells

Tinder has become a cultural phenomenon, with people now using the phrase “swipe right” or “swipe left” in everyday life. But could your teen be using this app and just how dangerous can it be for young people? What else could your teen be doing on his or her smartphone?

First, what is Tinder?

Tinder is a dating app for smartphones that was released in 2012. The app will pull up the pictures of users located near you and ask you to decide based on just the picture, whether you’re attracted to each person. If you are, you swipe right, but if you’re not, you swipe left. If you and another person have both swiped right on each other’s pictures, then you’ll be given access to privately message each other. This swipe feature was revolutionary and quickly raised Tinder’s profile amongst dating sites.

Are teens using Tinder?

The short answer? Yes. Teens are drawn to the simplicity and visual nature of the app. It’s been estimated that 7% of Tinder’s users are between the ages of 13 and 17. That means that there are at least 3.5 million underage teens using this adult dating app! Tinder set new age restrictions in 2016 such that only over 18s are technically allowed on the app. But this can be easy to get around

Tinder also says it only allows Tinder users to find other users in the same age group, especially for teens. But we know that it is extremely common for children to lie about their date of birth especially on social media. And that can leave underage users open to connections with much older adults and even sexual predators.

Tinder says it gets user ages from their Facebook profile but, like on any social media platform, it is easy to create a false profile on there and fake profiles are very common.  

We also know they lie about their online activity so having open conversations is super important. They learn quickly how to clear browser activity, dim screens, hid apps and generally hide their digital footprint.

Why should parents worry about Tinder?

One of the main draws to Tinder is the fact that you can meet people who are located near you. In fact, you can adjust the location range so only people who are within one mile are shown to you. When a match is made and users begin to privately message each other, the conversation quickly turns to arranging a place and time to meet. Because both users are so geographically close to each other, teens can easily meet someone they meet through Tinder in a matter of minutes. It’s no wonder the app has such a reputation as the hookup app.

This is even scarier when you consider how many predators could be using the Tinder app to prey on minors. Tinder was once even referred to as “the playground for males in their late 20s to 30s to try to match with younger females.” The minimum age requirement hasn’t made it any less potentially dangerous and sex offenders are known to be active on the app.

On top of being exposed to predators, Tinder leaves teens vulnerable to cyberbullying, too. Because this app is so superficial, teens can be taunted for how they look, which can have serious long-term consequences, including low self-esteem and dangerous behaviors. One of the major attractions of the app is the provocative images people post which can leave young people open to potential risks and emotional abuse.

What other apps are out there?

Unfortunately, Tinder is not the only app that parents have to worry about. There are dozens of apps available through smartphones that put your teens at risk of contacting strangers and predators. Skout, another location-based top dating app that brings users together, was even shut down briefly in 2012 after three men were accused of raping minors that they met through Skout.

MeetMe, yet another app that connects users based on where they’re located, has also been the subject of controversy in the past. Three separate sex crime cases in California had one thing in common: the men all met the young girls via MeetMe.  Skout and MeetMe are just two online dating apps outside of Tinder that pose a risk to teens, and there will without a doubt be more as technology continues to evolve.

How do you know if your child is using these apps?

Parents should take a proactive approach and hold open, frequent conversations with their teens about what apps they’re using on their smartphones. If possible, the account linked to downloading different apps  – the app store on an iPhone – should be connected to your email address, not your teen’s, so that you can keep track of what goes on his or her mobile phone. 

Even if you look at your teen’s phone, there’s a chance that you could be missing something. Believe it or not, there are apps that allow teens to hide media files or other apps from view so that parents don’t catch them when looking through the phone. Your teen will find a way round the most sophisticated parental control software.

Always check for hidden apps by looking through your teen’s phone and Googling the names of any apps that you don’t recognize. You may discover that your teen is using one of these apps that conceal information from you!

Keeping the communication open

Try to have a regular non-judgmental open conversation with your teen about their life online. Are they doing things online that would be bizarre in real life? Are they taking risks online that they wouldn’t dream of taking in real life? Talk to them about GPS tracking used on Tinder, the shallowness of matching by image, the dangers of matching with much older people, the dangers of sexting, how not to give in to pressure and the risk of a security breach of their personal information on an online platform. It pays to remind them that content online stays online forever and even images set to disappear on delivery can easily be screenshot to make them last. 

Talk to them about how to protect their online reputation and their mental health. Try to see things from their perspective and offer guidance without dismissal – but, sexual relationships do not have to define their value, their sense of self and who they are as a person. Ultimately, if they aren’t ready to date, have romantic relationships, and handle all the emotional issues that go along with that, they shouldn’t be on Tinder or any other dating app. There are lots of better ways for teenagers to meet new people and make new friends than on virtual dating apps.

Maxine Wells

Maxine Wells is a single mom of two early teens who loves finding advice to navigate the world of digital parenting and sharing it with fellow moms. She also enjoys saving money for her household and reading a good crime novel.

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Last Updated on November 23, 2023 by Editorial Staff

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