What’s the story with teen dating apps? Let this Gen Z tell you.
Teens are using social media, group chats, multimedia gaming and sometimes teen dating apps. Our Gen Z expert shares her tips on how to talk with teens about using them safely.
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Oh, wow, there’s a dating app icon on your teen’s phone screen?! Does this mean they’re looking for a romantic partner? Not necessarily.
Sure, some teens use teen dating apps for, well, dating. Other teens use dating apps as a group bonding exercise. Swiping left or right can be fun with friends and is a great excuse to pre-vet any potential partners with a committee of well-meaning buds.
My sister and I are in another group. We use social media platforms to build community beyond the people we already know. In other words, we go online to find friends, and we’re not alone. According to various reports, more young people are using social media and dating apps just to find friends. If we’re lucky and careful, sometimes we even meet our online friends in IRL (in real life).
But even if a teen is using these apps to “date” someone, you should probably know that dating today looks a lot different from the way it did years ago. Teenage dating today has moved almost entirely online.
How teens use social media to date
Teens don’t need to rely on their friends to get information about their crush when they have a smartphone in their hands. With so many people on social media, it’s easy to research a crush online. They’ll look at posts, photos and reels on the crush’s various social media pages. Then, if they’re still interested, they’ll follow those accounts. When they want to signal that they’re romantically interested, they’ll like some older posts. After that, they may send their crush a direct or private message. If their crush is interested, expect an onslaught of text messages passed back and forth as they get to know each other.
But even all that is just getting to know someone. Most likely, teens are getting to know several people this way at the same time. Until they change their status on social media to something official, like “in a relationship,” teens today are just keeping it casual, sometimes choosing to keep their relationship entirely online.
Here’s what you need to know about how your teen is meeting people online, plus some internet safety reminders.
Can teens use social media as a dating app?
Sure, anyone can. Here are the main social media apps teens use, how social media can be used to date online, and some ways your teens can practice internet safety.
When your teen is looking through someone’s Instagram account, they may look for how many connections they have in common, which might help your teen decide if it’s someone they’d like to date.
Safe strategies: Some easy ways to minimize unwanted attention include talking with your teen about setting their profile to private, posting Stories to “close friends” rather than posting it publicly, and archiving photos they don’t want on their public profile (or outright deleting them). Filtering and turning off comments is also easy to set up, and blocking or reporting someone who keeps sending your teen unwanted private messages takes only a few seconds.
TikTok has become a popular hub to find new friends. It’s important to note, though, that your teen is not limited to seeing only posts from accounts they follow.
Safe strategies: TikTok’s privacy features are similar to Instagram’s and can be accessed through settings. Many privacy features are turned on automatically, too. So look through these features together and make sure these privacy settings are in place.
Snapchat’s main appeal for teens is that Snaps (messages) disappear after viewing.
Safe strategies: Talk with your teen regularly about what they’re Snapping with friends. Specifically talk together about what’s appropriate to send. Teens engaging in dangerous digital behavior such as taking or receiving inappropriate photos might think this feature can help keep these images from ever getting out. But beware: Snaps can be screenshot, so privacy is never guaranteed.
Discord is a group chat application and website created for gamers. Now there are servers for people interested in pretty much anything. It’s the de facto application for teen group chats online. I’ve met most of my internet best friends on Discord servers. It’s also a fun alternative to texting group chats for people you know in real life.
Safe strategies: Some server channels are age-locked ages 18 and up. It’s up to the channel manager to verify age and set up those locks. So it’s important to talk with your teen about the group chats they’re using, and make sure they’re age appropriate.
Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, or MMORPGs
What better way is there to meet someone who shares your interests than while doing something you like? Chatting features in MMORPGs and real-time strategy games allow your teen to chat with people who live all around the world and make lasting connections.
Safe strategies: When making and finding new friends in these games, make sure your teen is mostly playing with friends they know from school. Talk regularly with them about the friends they’re playing with, and where they know them from. It’s also important to make sure they don’t share any personal information in a private chat with someone they don’t know.
Dangers of online dating for teens
Like anything else your teen does online, dating online leaves a digital footprint. Plus, online dating potentially leaves your teens vulnerable to being harassed or bullied. Even if you’ve already talked with your kids about how to handle these situations on social media, consider revisiting those conversations by discussing how to use teen dating apps safely.
It’s also wise to discuss what they’re aiming for in these connections and have them make sure the person they’re interested in has the same goal in mind. Some teens might be looking to get serious while the ones they’re connecting with are not. Encourage them to communicate their expectations early on to avoid disappointment or hurt feelings later.
Also, keep in mind that no matter how rigorous the screening and oversight are on dating apps for teens, your kids still might be exposed to inappropriate content or behavior.
One of the biggest risks they’ll face is meeting someone IRL that they have only known online. It’s easy for people to misrepresent themselves online by hiding behind a fake persona. If your teen is planning to move an online relationship off screen, talk to them about meeting the person in a public place with a friend or trusted adult.
Sadly, teen dating apps and online social platforms are fertile ground for catfishing and predators to groom victims and later exploit them. Warn your teens against sending explicit photos to anyone. Warn them against requesting them, too, because if the sender is under 18, or if they send photos of someone who’s underage, your child could end up in legal trouble.
Strategies for talking with teens about dating apps
As in real life, remind your teen they don’t have to talk to people who make them feel uncomfortable and they can block and report them.
Here are some topics you might want to cover in your discussions about online safety:
Who are your teens talking to?
It’s pretty easy to set up a fake account on social media or on dating apps to hide your age or masquerade as someone else. A teen might have seen a person’s photo, but that photo could be heavily filtered. Have they ever spoken to them over a voice call, or seen them through a video chat? Is it someone they’re willing to have you meet before they meet up in person? Talk together with your teen about those rules first.
What are they talking about?
Maintain an open dialogue with your teen about what other people are talking to them about. When teens aren’t in the same space as their parents, it’s much easier to talk without holding back—and this can lead to some unhealthy power dynamics and unreasonable expectations if healthy boundaries aren’t set. If your kids are saddled with the full emotional weight of people they know from the net, that’s a red flag for protecting your own kid’s mental health.
What are they posting?
The more details your teen posts about their private life online, the easier it is for someone to use that information to manipulate them. Do they post their age in their bio? Predators look for kids. Do they drop information about their life in their posts—listing location, school or home address, family dynamics, real names? Strangers can use that information to trick your teen into thinking they’re not really a stranger at all.
What photos are appropriate?
What do they think is appropriate to post, and what’s inappropriate? What kind of responses do people have to their photos? Are people being cruel or honestly supportive? Remind your teens that digital footprints are real, and nothing they post online is ever really gone. Also ask your teen if they ever wonder if their friend’s photos are edited. Remind your teen that they have control over what they see online, and it’s perfectly OK to unfollow people or delete their comments if they make them feel bad about themselves.
Don’t freak out
Teen dating apps can be a great way for teenagers to meet, socialize and, of course, date. However, it’s natural to be apprehensive about teen dating apps if you’re unfamiliar with them, especially since dating apps can expose your teen to inappropriate content, catfishing and predatory behavior. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself about the various sites and their potential risks, and to familiarize yourself with their safety parameters so you can help your teen use these platforms safely.
Are they finding love, apptually?can help you set controls, monitor your child’s activity and set usage limits. Then keep the conversation going about dating safely online.