Dating and relationships are necessary in teenagers

How can vulnerable young people be protected from the risks of online dating?

Dating dignity

How a young person feels about themselves - let's call it their sense of dignity - affects how they act in relationships. When their disabilities, learning difficulties, or home responsibilities mean they have few opportunities to connect with others their own age, they seek love and admiration online more than other teenagers. The urge to belong and be loved is so strong that safety rules are forgotten.

Mental health and emotions are powerful drivers of everything we do. People with an eating disorder are more than three times more likely to share explicit images than teenagers with no difficulty. Isolation or feeling alone can also lead teens to seek social life online: Young caregivers share these images twice as often as teens with no responsibility or additional needs. They feel "noticed" and some see it as a gateway to the teenage social and romantic life they yearn for. Others look at their online lives to compensate for their real-world struggles. Some teenagers simply believe that in a relationship it is necessary if you are to keep your partner.

Sharing explicit images or "sexting" can occur when pressure is applied or blackmailed. Those most likely to say this has happened to them are people with an eating disorder, young caregivers, people with autism, and people in care. We also learn that more than half of the hearing impaired teenagers who shared a picture said they had been pressured or blackmailed. Some thin inspiration coaches put incredible pressure on young people to be thinner - they are tightly controlled and have their goal send pictures every day. Others pressurize boys to enlarge their bodies and send photos to illustrate this. You can pretend it is a relationship and say loving things to get more pictures.

Gaps between digital and emotional skills

There can also be a gap between a child's or adolescent's ability to use technology and an understanding of the long-term consequences. If they are very compliant and trusting, they may be eager to do what their "partner" asks them to do or fail to realize if they are being manipulated. This can take the form of images of yourself sharing too much information, leading to someone offering them "protection" and belonging, which can later turn to control or even exploitation. The greatest defense for our teenagers is to be loved and supported so that relationships and feelings can be discussed openly, and often in a safe manner, with trusted adults. To nurture healthy relationships in the teenage years, one has to let go of what is difficult for parents who are naturally protective, especially when their child is vulnerable offline. So start young and help a young person become aware, acquire skills, contemplate scenarios, and understand that relationships are not always what they seem. This can set the pattern by which things are discussed with a trusted adult before they are in a relationship.

What's okay in a relationship?

Parents and caregivers should talk about what a good relationship looks like in any setting, rather than worrying excessively about the online world. What's OK? It seems that teenagers believe it is a sign of trust between a couple when their partner looks through your phone without permission, and more than a third of boys believe that nude picture sharing is expected in a relationship. More than half of young people with mental health problems shared a picture "because I was in a relationship and wanted to share it".

Young people who are vulnerable offline are more than twice as likely as their peers to agree to meet someone they met online. People with hearing loss or learning difficulties later said they were most likely not about my age.

So-called online relationships may not be anything like that. People with hearing loss, eating disorders, mental health problems, care experiences, or those who say I am worried about home life were more than twice as likely as other teenagers to report that “someone tried to persuade me to engage in unwanted sexual activity ".

Do not support shame or guilt

While parents should be vigilant, they should also aim to strengthen their child's skills:

  • Talk about relationships openly and often
  • State what is okay and what is not
  • Explain that some people online are not who they say they are
  • Some people are not nice - it's hard, but there are others who are
  • Some relationships are breaking up and heartbreaking, but there will be more
  • You are a valued and loved person and you don't have to prove it to anyone by doing things that we agreed to and that are not okay
  • Your body is private
  • Discuss situations and explore, 'What would you do if ...? Or what do you think a fictional person should do when this happens to them?
  • Encourage conversational tactics to solve problems with a trusted adult
  • Understand the importance of an online identity
  • Do not support, shame, or blame the youngster when a problem arises