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Online dating apps and teen safety

February 14, 2020

With Valentine’s Day being celebrated on February 14, almost 72 percent of people turn to dating apps to find love,  according to a survey by the international data and analytics group YouGov. But how safe is this latest dating trend?

Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of America-based Match Group, which owns and operates several online dating web sites including OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Tinder, Hinge and said, “You should run a dating business as if you are a mom.” But that’s hardly the case.

Dating apps may have made dating easier for some but a nightmare for others and that includes people of age and gender. According to the Pew Research Center’s Online Harassment Report, about 6 percent of young women who use online dating apps have faced molestation. 

Dating violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a romantic partner. Tinder is one dating app that received its fair share of criticism for not providing enough support to users to users who faced sexual assaults. It was last month that the app added new safety features, including a panic button for emergency services, and photo verification, which was earlier missing. 

Commenting on its security measures, Snehil Khanor, founder CEO of India-based TrulyMadly told EducationWorld, “70 percent of our user base is 26 and above while 50 percent is 28 and above. We have this concept called – “Trust Score” in our app that helps increase your trust score by connecting your Facebook (30 percent), verifying your phone number (10 percent), connecting LinkedIn (15 percent) or verifying your national ID like Aadhar or Passport (30 percent) or by doing a selfie verification. Having a score of 85 and above is equivalent to having paid premium subscription.”

The apps worked with some of “India’s top family therapists and psychologists to develop a compatibility framework aligned with Indian household dynamics.” It evaluates compatibility in six different dimensions – family values, trust, choices, intention, intimacy, and individuality.

OkCupid too has some safety tips for its users like “never share personal information, such as your social security number, home or work address, or details about your daily routine” and “keep conversations on the OkCupid platform while you’re getting to know someone. Users with bad intentions often try to move the conversation to text, messaging apps, email, or phone right away.”

Well, it’s not only with young women and men that assault incidents happen regularly. Children have also fallen victims on dating apps.

Teen dating violence

Apps such as Tinder for teens and Yubo have created dating services for teens, which turned into made hunting grounds for pedophiles. Why? Signing up in these apps doesn’t require age verification, which means users can lie about their age.

Child psychologist and founder-director of Muktha Foundation, Ashwini N.V. explains how such apps can be a possible threat for children, “One cannot make a ‘black and white’ judgement regarding the safety or the risks involved in using online dating apps, instead we need to assess the features of each online dating app available in the market, and then encourage the users to make an informed decision before taking a plunge into dating using online space.”

She further adds, “There is a need to equip teenagers and youngsters with skills to make informed choices regarding creating and sustaining relationships. We need to emphasize on the risks inherent in online dating, but not single out the topic. It should be dialogued under the broader discussion of relational and safety skills.”

How can parents be warned?

“Parents must build a non-judgmental and trusting relationship with their children. This means, the child feels comfortable to ask questions, and discuss any topic with parents, and parents too feel the same with their children. When the foundations of a parent-child relationship are healthy and based on mutual respect, discussing a topic such as dating, online dating, and all that it entails become easier. This way, parents can be assured that their children will make informed choices, and ensure they are safe from all walks of life, of which dating is one.

Also, when parents discuss any topic with their children, they must ensure that they are well informed regarding the topic, and don’t have a biased understanding based on hearsay, and ignorance. If parents are being dictatorial in commanding what children should do and shouldn’t, there is a risk that children engage in the same ‘prohibited’ behaviour without parents’ knowledge. This ensures no safety whatsoever,” explains Ashwini. 

Sukanya Nandy

Also read: Protecting children from the billion dollar online porn industry

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