Trigger Warning: This article includes references to online grooming of minors and sexual exploitation. If your child has been exploited online, contact An Garda Síochána immediately. Although the minimum age for using many dating apps is 18, your child or teen might use other social media platforms to chat with potential love interests. This comes with risks to your child’s privacy and safety but there are ways that you can help to protect them. Here are some do’s and don’ts of online dating that you can share with your child:
• DO: Keep communication open with trusted adultsCreating a space where your child can speak freely about their digital life is key to establishing trust between you. It can also help them develop critical thinking skills when it comes to online dating. Encourage them to share details of potential relationships with you and tell them that they have your support no matter what.
DO: Understand the risksTalk to your child about online grooming, and discuss ways to identify situations where they might put themselves in danger, eg. sharing intimate photos or telling the person their location. Remind your child that any adult who wants to talk about sex with a minor is doing something wrong and should be reported to An Garda Síochána. Fraudsters also use online dating to target victims. Tell your child that they should never send money or provide financial information to anyone online. If your child has been scammed, contact your local Garda station as soon as possible. Encourage them to say ‘no’ to any situation that makes them feel uncomfortable.
DO: Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationshipsWhen speaking to your child, discuss what you both think a relationship needs to be healthy and fulfilling. Talk to your child about the dangers of unhealthy or toxic relationships, and ways to identify them. Questions to ask could include:
- Is the person respecting your boundaries? Do they listen when you say ‘no’?
- Is the person possessive? Do they expect you to reply to their messages right away?
- Is the person trying to control who you speak to or what you wear?
DO: Know the tools to stay safeEquip your child/teen with the tools they need to flag or report inappropriate or abusive behaviour. Such misconduct could include:
- Threats, harassment and other offensive messages
- Inappropriate or dangerous behaviour, either in-person or online
- Fake profiles
- Spam or solicitation with links to commercial websites