Being in my forties, I missed the whole Internet dating scene that’s apparently all the rage today. Back in my day, you met people you wanted to date only in the flesh and usually through friends of friends. Everyone had a connection of some sort, unless you just happened to meet a cute stranger on the train or in a bar.
Yet nowadays, the majority of my female friends have met their partners online, or at least attempted to do the whole Internet dating thing. Most of them regale me with horror stories, which are enough to make me grateful that I never had to go through it. And while I’ve secretly wished that by the time my kids are in their twenties the world will have somehow miraculously shifted back to the good old days, I never thought for a moment that I would have to consider my teenagers using dating apps.
The Yellow app is the second most popular free lifestyle app (after Tinder) on the Apple app store in the U.K. (where I live), and it’s quickly catching on elsewhere. Aimed at 13- to 17-year-olds of both sexes, Yellow is where kids can connect with strangers by swiping right on their profile. When both users “like” each other, they can connect and chat via Snapchat — sending any photos they choose — even if they have never met. However, unlike Tinder (who only allows users of 18), Yellow has no checks in place to verify ages. Snapchat has systems in place, so it’s pretty difficult for users to find strangers — but with Yellow, any stranger can add your child and vice versa.
Naturally, you can see why some parents are starting to worry. Especially because Yellow, which is being dubbed the “Tinder for Teens,” is quickly picking up steam, with a reported 5 million users to date. And while I’m sure many users have innocent enough intentions when using the app, the fact is, it’s impossible that everyone does. And the very thought that some kids could be open to being groomed by someone pretending to be a teen sends shivers down my spine.
The U.K.’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children also has reasons for concern. As a spokesperson recently told the Telegraph:
“Any app that allows strangers to send photos to children or vice versa is troubling. Yellow’s settings that enable adults to view children, through a service blatantly aimed at flirting and relationships, also creates an opportunity for sexual predators to target young people. This needs to be urgently addressed.”
Yellow claims to be working on a solution to the problem, where the new app will require any user wanting to change their date of birth to send proof of ID to their customer service team. The company has also said that users cannot connect with anyone over the age of 18. But here’s my question: How do you know the person you are connecting with is genuinely under 18?
And there’s another problem parents face: How exactly do you monitor your kid’s phone to ensure that they aren’t using the app? Unlike Facebook, where you can befriend your child and keep an eye on what they are up to, or insist all Instagram requests are overseen by you, how do you govern something like Yellow?
Teens basically spend their whole lives on their phones; they’re glued to the darn things. I went to lunch recently with my 17-year-old niece, and she barely looked me in the eye the whole time, her head was so buried in her phone. If she wasn’t liking a photo, she was replying to a text or to a group chat. I was exasperated.
As parents, this is a whole new world to us. We try our best to be involved and we know the basic rules — like keeping computers in open areas where everyone can see what you’re doing or using apps to take screen shots at various intervals to keep tabs. We limit the phone time, we make sure they have all privacy settings activated and add parental controls to our browsers. But at the end of the day, all we can really do is talk to them, one on one, and have an honest conversation. Make sure that they trust us and give them as much information and education as possible, so they trust us too.
In the meantime, I’ll be praying that my kids won’t ever want to e-meet strangers and will never be tempted to give out personal information online. I’m going to encourage them to always connect and befriend those they have met in real life — because there is no better way to get to know anyone than spending time with them in person.
Sure, dating sites have their place and are regarded as a normal way to meet people these days. But I won’t be letting them use an online dating site in their teens if I can help it, and I’m hoping the “old school” way is one they will feel works best. After all, it worked for me!