It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: finding out your child has made online contact with strangers posing as teenagers, has met those strangers in real life, and now your child has been sexually assaulted.
No one wants to think this can happen to their own child, but that’s exactly what happened to three young teens who used a popular app meant for flirting and dating. That app now bans minors from using it’s service… but the problem is, it’s not the only app out there.
Tinder is one of the most popular dating apps on the market, and has been labeled one of the most dangerous and inappropriate apps for teens and tweens.
What Exactly is Tinder?
Tinder is a dating app for smartphones. Released in 2012, it’s a mashup of traditional online dating, GPS targeting, and instant messaging.
Users are shown with a photo of potential matches in their area, and then can anonymously rate that person by “swiping” their picture off the screen in a different direction. Interested? Swipe right. Not interested? Swipe left.
If two users both “swipe right” to indicate they are interested, Tinder makes an “introduction” and reveals each user’s identity. The couple can then message each other and arrange to meet.
It’s a straightforward process, as dating apps go. The simplicity of the app appeals to many millennials and teens who are used to making instant connections online. But many say it’s also incredibly superficial.
Sean Rad, founder and former CEO of Tinder, says it just mimics real life. He admits, “It is all about the picture. We’re not ashamed to say that. In the real world, you all have that initial first impression and that look and I think we underestimate the power of our brains to tell a story by looking at a photo.”
In any case, the numbers speak for themselves. Tinder claims the app sees over 50 million people use the app every month, with 1.6 billion “swipes” and 26 million matches every day.
However, once the match has been made and instant messaging comes into play, all bets are off.
Who Uses Tinder
With so many people connecting with strangers every day, it’s important to realize WHO exactly is using Tinder.
The current Tinder demographics are:
- 7% — 13 to 17 years old
- 51% — 18 to 24 year olds
- 32% — 25 to 32 year olds
- 6.5% — 35 to 44 year olds
- 3.5% — 45 year olds and older.
You might notice something strange at the top of that list… 7% of users are 13 to 17? That’s at least 3.5 million teens that are active on Tinder.
That’s the main reason Tinder is so worrisome for parents: it allows users as young as 13 to create accounts.
In an email exchanged with The Huffington Post, Tinder spokesperson Rosette Pambakian wrote, “To protect young users, those between the ages of 13 to 17 can only connect with other users in that same age range on Tinder. Additionally, the only way two users are able to message each other within Tinder is if they mutually expressed interest by ‘liking’ each other, which results in a match. That means that users cannot send messages to other users without mutual consent.”
However, like almost all social media apps and sites, there is nothing to prevent users from entering false birth dates. This is especially troublesome, because Tinder is linked to Facebook and Instagram accounts where it is estimated that 44 percent of teens have lied about how old they really are to gain access to age restricted content.
Beyond teens using this tactic, there are concerns that predators can also lie about their age to gain access to younger teens’ profiles. Online “sextortion” is a relatively new phenomenon but one that all parents need to be aware of.
How Are Teens Using Tinder
Parents have other reasons to be concerned over Tinder. While Tinder is called a “dating” app, it has a reputation for being used mostly for hook-ups and sexual encounters. What differentiates it from most others is that Tinder uses a smartphone’s GPS tracking feature to connect people within a geographical region. The danger Tinder poses isn’t just virtual… it’s within arm’s reach.
A survey of teens on Tinder saw a huge emphasis on sexual encounters, including stories such as…
- “Every person I know who has Tinder has been asked for sex.” — 16 year old.
- “Teens [use it] to find other teens who are interested in getting physical without on emotional connection.” — Anonymous teen.
- “All the girls I know have spoken to mainly older guys, around one or two years older. And the guys speak to anyone they can. It starts off with general chit-chat usually, and then it slips into talking purely about sex and physical stuff and then often they eventually arrange to meet up.” — 16 year old.
- “Of course there’s the risk of meeting creeps on dating sites, but there’s that risk when you meet people offline too.” — 18 year old.
Other Concerns Over Tinder
Like most messaging apps, Tinder puts teens at risk for cyberbullying. Cyberbullies can create fake accounts, take screenshots, and humiliate victims with this dating app, whether it’s a stranger they’ve met online, or someone they know, and have specifically matched with in order to bully or threaten.
This is especially troubling for parents of teen girls. Tinder is infamous for sexual harassment of women, and can create self-esteem issues in vulnerable teen girls.
In fact, the former CEO Sean Rad who we quoted above, stepped down as CEO after the female VP of marketing filed a lawsuit accusing her co-workers of sexual harassment and sexism.
This is troublesome for Tinder’s younger users, as intimate relationships are often used to define a “teen’s social rank, popularity, value, and who they are as a person.”
Tinder can lead to sexting and risky behaviors for young teens that aren’t mature enough to handle it.
Final Thoughts: What To Know and Do About Tinder
- One of the driving forces behind this dating app is to find people you can actually meet up with in real-life often for sexual acts.
- This app uses location tracking to help people within a mile radius of your child’s location.
- Not everyone uses their real ages on this site and it can expose children to pedophiles or predators.
- This site requires users to enable location tracking on their devices. It allows other users to pinpoint general areas a child might live or frequent.
- Parents need to examine the morality of this app and see if they support children rating others based on appearance alone.
- The Internet is full of trolls and predators looking for victims. You can find sites and message boards dedicated to the subject of Tinder “creeps”.
- In the past, Tinder has exposed users’ data and locations. This security problem has since been fixed, but the threat is still there.
Parents need to instill in kids an understanding of the dangers social media poses. This will likely empower kids to protect themselves against digital pitfalls like predators, cyberbullies, and sexting.
And when it comes to Tinder, ask yourself…
- Is your child ready to date?
- Do you want your child meeting strangers in your area?
- Does your teen know how to protect their online reputation?
- Have you talked to your teen about the dangers of sexting?
If the answer is “no,” your child should NOT be on Tinder!