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What does online dating look like for teens? Technology has changed the way we interact with each other and ourselves online. Therefore, it’s important to be in tune with what your teen is doing and who they are talking to, so you can best support them.

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Navigating the ‘digital playground’

Today, the online world has become a digital playground for children to stay in touch with school friends, meet new friends through various online activities such as gaming and maintain social interactions.

Online relationships can remove barriers that children may have when meeting for the first time and allow those who are shy or socially anxious to develop their social skills in a space where they feel safe to do so.

Although using social apps and online platforms can help children to maintain relationships, concerns have been raised about teen safety when exploring romantic relationships online.

So, what can be seen as harmless chat can turn into something harmful. If a child is lacking in critical thinking or is considered vulnerable, it may be harder for them to spot when a chat with a ‘new friend’ can put them at risk of grooming or being lured into sending nudes for example.

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It’s important to note that technology hasn’t replaced face to face contact but it’s rather woven into the everyday lives of young people. Relationships can still form in the outside world and can grow in the digital.

How are young people using the internet to create and maintain relationships?

The reality is that children are growing up in the digital world so it is only natural for them to spend time in cyberspace. Teens may feel comfortable using the internet to meet people.

Interacting with other teens outside their social circle can be exciting, particularly at a time where they’re exploring their understanding of sex and relationships.

Common Sense Media – Teen Voices: Who You’re Talking to Online

Online dating facts and statistics

One in five Children are happy to have an “online-only” romance

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Over a third of 14-17-year-olds have sent a sexual or nude photo to someone they like

(Source)

of young people aged between 14-24 years’ old met up with an online contact face-to-face and found that they weren’t who they said they were

(Source)

of 14-17 years old had at some pointed chatted online about the kinds of sexual things they would like to do with someone they were interested in

(Source)

Over one-third of young people have started a relationship with someone they met online

(Source)

Online-only relationships and vulnerable children

Children and young people who are more vulnerable than their peers tend to spend more time online. According to findings from EU Kids Online’s research on vulnerable children online: they said: “Disabled children tend to have more digital skills but encounter more online risk and may lack peer support”.

FAQ: What do we mean by vulnerable?

Vulnerable people usually either are/have experiences of one or more of the following:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Been in the care system
  • Victims of abuse
  • Have parents or guardians who lack education or internet experience and usually tend to lack digital safety
  • Psychological difficulties – tend to encounter more online risk, and to be more upset by it, compared with other children
  • Mental health difficulties
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people – as they can often feel like they don’t fit in or belong

And therefore, vulnerable young people are more likely to interact, seek relationships and are of higher risk of meeting strangers offline.

The role technology plays for online teen relationships

Our research found that the majority of teens see the role the internet plays when they build relationships to be positive. 52% of children agreed that tech and social media made it easier to sustain a relationship with 24% saying they find it easier to find love on the internet.

Communication between children doesn’t just begin or end at school and having a medium such as the internet or social media, allows them access to each other 24/7.

Teens can freely express their feelings and attraction by liking, commenting and interacting with a love interest at any time and these exchanges can help them find information about a potential partner.

The link between on and offline relationships

Whilst technology doesn’t neccesarily replace face-to-face interactions in some aspects, it is now an integral part of young people’s relationships.  Teens online behaviours may create real-life problems offline, like abuse, negative thoughts and perceptions of themselves or others.

Online relationships are based on limited information and so a teen who forms online relationships and only knows so much about that person.

The lack of teens experiencing engaging in real-life relationships can hurt their ability to develop healthy relationships and therefore can have an impact on how they view what a healthy relationship looks like.

This can especially happen if your child is missing out on real-life relationships as they spend too much time online and may be missing out on opportunities how to learn and practice skills that allow healthy relationships to develop.

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