Safer online dating: how to support your child

Safer online dating: how to support your child

As your child gets older they will start to be interested in romantic relationships. Online spaces are one of the places they can meet, flirt and start relationships.

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Whilst you may have some worries about your child dating online, there are lots of things you can do to support them to be safer.
 

Talk together about what a healthy relationship looks like

The qualities of healthy relationships should be the same online as they are in-person. Help your child to think about what qualities are important to them in a relationship and how they can spot them online. Some healthy qualities to share are:

  • Respect. They show respect for your feelings and opinions. They don’t put you down or say rude things to you.
  • Consent. They don’t put pressure on you to talk about or do sexual things if you don’t want to, including sending nude or semi-nude images. They respect when you say no.  
  • Allowing independence. They understand that spending time away from one another is healthy and encourage your hobbies and interests.
  • Honesty. They don’t lie to you or pretend to be someone online that they are not. You are open with each other whilst keeping some personal things private.

 

Help them to think critically about who they are talking to

It can be difficult to spot when people are lying or have bad intentions online, especially if attraction or emotions are involved. Help your child to build critical skills by talking to them about how to spot when something isn’t right, such as:

  • ● Are they really a ‘friend of a friend’? It can be easy for someone to pretend to know you from what they see on your account. They might claim to go to the same school or college, or tell you that they know one of your friends. Seeing friends in common can make you feel more at ease adding them as a friend, but that doesn’t mean they actually know your friends in-person. Think before you add them and ask around about this person – have the friends they claim to know ever met them in-person? What do they know about them?
  • ● Do they sound too good to be true? Shared interests or opportunities can often connect us to people online. However, if someone is sharing their luxury lifestyle, claiming to be an expert in an industry, or to have lots of money, it is rarely true. If they want something from you in order to ‘help’ you - for example sending photos for a modelling contract or money to invest in something, this could be a warning sign of grooming or exploitation.  
  • ● Have they told you ‘my camera is broken’?. Some people will avoid video chat or talking to you on the phone. This may be because they want to hide how old they are, what sex they are or their appearance. If someone won’t video chat with you or has excuses when you ask to talk, this may indicate that they’re lying about one of these things.
  • ● Do they want you to keep your chat private?  If they don’t want your friends or family to know that you are talking, ask yourself why? If they are genuine and have your best interest at heart, they wouldn’t mind people knowing.

3 top tips for safety to share with your child

  1. Keep personal information private

    Whilst it may feel appropriate to share personal information after knowing someone for a while, for example giving your mobile number to call or message, be careful about what you share when you first start talking to someone online. It is important to build trust before you share information and you should always feel comfortable with what you share, when. You may not want the person to know personal information about you if they turn out to be untrustworthy.

    Personal information can also be shared by accident, our parents and carers guide can help you to support your child to take better control of their personal information.

  2. Take control of privacy

    You have a right to privacy and this applies to online spaces too. Taking some time to review the privacy settings on your social media platforms  can help you take control over what personal information you share with others. For help with how to do this on different platforms, you can use Internet Matters privacy settings guides.   

  3. Stick to age-appropriate sites

    If you’re looking for a romantic relationship, you may think dating sites are a good place to meet other single people; dating sites are aimed at 18+. Sticking to social apps and websites created for under 18s gives you the best chance to meet people your own age, find shared interests and connection. You’re more likely to meet inappropriate people on 18+ dating sites and, unless they’re looking to harm or exploit, they will be on the site to meet other adults. 

 

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Meeting up

If your child has built a relationship with someone online, it is natural that they may want to arrange to meet them in person.  It is important to consider your child’s individual needs, circumstances and emotional maturity. This will help you make an informed decision on whether they are ready to meet. Some points to consider:

  • ● How do they cope in new or stressful situations?
    ● Do they manage meeting up with their friends on their own?
    ● Can they self-regulate their emotions well?
    ● Do they have additional needs which need adult support?
    ● Are they likely to tell you or another trusted adult if something is wrong?

If you feel comfortable with your child meeting up with the person, put a safety plan together first. Use the following points to help you:

Where are they going to meet?
It is safer to meet in a public place where there are lots of people. Get your child to pick somewhere they are already familiar with and know the route home. This will help them feel more comfortable. Think about whether there is good phone signal in their chosen meeting point.

When will they meet?
Meeting in the day time is safer. Think about how long is reasonable to plan to be out – what time will they meet and when will they return?  This helps keep a boundary on the date and stop it going into the evening or other locations you haven’t agreed – if it goes well, another date can be arranged.

How will they get to and from the date?
Help your child to plan a safe journey, this might be you or another trusted adult driving them, or public transport routes. Consider the frequency of transport and check your child can get safely to and from the date within the times agreed. Their date should meet them at the meeting point; remind your child that they shouldn’t get in a car or travel anywhere other than the agreed meeting place. Agree to call your child if they haven’t let you know they’re on their way back at the expected time. Make sure they take their mobile phone  and it is fully charged.

What will they do if something isn’t right?
This may be obvious, for example, if the person doesn’t look like their photo or they have come with other people your child didn’t know would be coming. Your child may find that something doesn’t feel right as the date progresses, for example, the person saying things they feel uncomfortable with or wanting to move the date elsewhere. Support your child to trust their instincts and know they can always leave if they want to. Think about phrases your child could say to exit the date or to let you know to call them. You may want to arrange to drop-off and pick up your child, agreeing to wait for a while to ensure they are comfortable before you leave.

Do they need an adult to go with them?
If your child isn’t ready to manage meeting up independently, or they feel unsure about going alone, they may need you or another trusted adult to go with them. Depending on their needs, you might accompany them for the whole date or agree to be in the area or sat in the same space at a distance.