September 21, 2015 by middleearthnj
Just this past summer, Zach Anderson made headlines across the country. The 19-year-old boy from Indiana went on a dating app, called “Hot or Not,” hoping to meet a girl. After connecting with a girl who claimed she was 17 and chatting with her through the app, Anderson traveled from Indiana to Michigan to meet her. They had consensual sex. Unfortunately, the girl lied to Anderson about her age. She was actually only 14 years old, and, by law, Anderson had committed a sex crime. He was arrested and ordered to spend 75 days in jail, serve five years of probation, and register as a sex offender for 25 years. He can’t continue with his computer science degree because he is not allowed to use the Internet.
While the debate rages on about the fairness of Anderson’s punishment, his story raises an important issue for parents of teenagers. Not only does this tech-savvy generation of teens seem to communicate primarily through media, they also seem to be dating that way, too.
While most parents realize they should monitor their teen’s activities on social media sites, such as Facebook and Snapchat, many are not aware that they should also talk to their teen about adult dating apps. Teens seem to feel very comfortable using apps to meet people, but there are risks involved.
Below is information about some of the adult dating apps that teens are using. The dating apps Tinder, MeetMe, and Skout are open to anyone above the age of 13, but that still doesn’t mean they are appropriate for teens. While the other dating apps listed below have 18+ age requirements, it’s easy for savvy teens to get around registration-related age restrictions.
Tinder is a photo and messaging dating app linked to a user’s Facebook profile. Tinder gathers your photos and basic information from Facebook (age, geographical location, friends, interests) and then matches you with potential candidates that are most likely to be compatible. Users then scroll through the potential matches and swipe right to “like” someone or left to “pass.” If two users both swipe right on each other’s profiles, it’s a match, and Tinder opens a private messaging conversation. Meeting up is generally the goal of users of Tinder. Co-founder Justin Mateen recently disclosed that more than 7% of Tinder users are between 13 and 17. That is disconcerting when many adults consider Tinder more focused on “casual sex hookups” than on true dating.
Although it is not marketed as a dating app, MeetMe’s tagline of “Chat and Meet New People” makes it frequently used for dating purposes. It is really an open chat room, as any user can chat with any other online user. You can also search locally for people to meet. To register, users must provide their first and last name, age, and zip code. The app also offers a “Match” feature where users can “secretly admire” other users.
Skout is a location-based app that allows users to connect with others in their area. Skout is often referred to as a “flirting” app and lets users comment on others’ posts, send pictures to other users, “wink” at each other, and chat. They receive notifications when someone “checks them out” but must pay points to see who it is. The app does ask for the user’s age and has a teens-only section; however, ages aren’t verified so it’s easy to lie.
Hot or Not
This app was originally started as a website over 10 years ago. In its newly revamped app, Hot or Not encourages users to vote on the attractiveness of other users, then gives each user’s profile a popularity score, and creates a ‘Hot List’ to show in real-time where the most attractive people are in your local area. Users can also chat through the app, provided they rate one another as ‘hot’. Online daters can be ruthless in their assessment of people’s physical attractiveness, which could be devastating to a teen’s self-esteem. While the app says it will not allow users age 13-17 to chat or share photos with users older than 17, there is no age-verification process. Each user must set up an account and “verify” their identity with an email or Facebook account.
This online dating-style social networking app boasts more than 200 million users worldwide. It follows a user’s location by tracking his or her device and then matches pictures and profiles of people in the surrounding area. This app is strictly for adults – their content is not moderated and many sexual images are posted for anyone to see.
Tingle allows users in the local area to talk on the phone and flirt via text without revealing their phone numbers.
Omegle is an anonymous chat app that encourages users to “talk to strangers.” While users start out anonymous, many do tend to share personal information and chatting frequently turns sexual in nature.
OKCupid is a popular dating app that allows users to create a profile. Users are then provided a list of potential matches, based on their interests. The user can instant message any of the matches or rate their profile.
You should frequently remind your teen about how to use social media safely and responsibly. Be sure to explain the risk of people lying about who they truly are online. If you do not want your teen to use dating apps, you should be clear about what is out of bounds. Perhaps even more importantly, you should talk to your teen about how to approach dating and how to create healthy, fulfilling relationships. If you need ideas, read our previous blog Teen Dating 101.