Meeting People Online - Online Safety Tips for Teens

The Do's and Don'ts of Online Relationships for Teens

online dating tips

When it comes to friendships and relationships it’s a brave new world thanks to the Internet. There are tons of horror stories about teens being lured off the Internet and into compromising positions by pedophiles and sex traffickers. Unfortunately these types of stories are not merely urban legends. They really happen and Internet savvy teens are at the greatest risk.

The popularity of meet-and-greet websites over the past few years has only increased the danger that a teen will fall victim to an online predator.

Websites like friendster.com, facebook.com, and plentyoffish.com cater to teens and young adults who want to meet other people. These sites are not dating sites and, unlike reputable online dating services, the friendship building sites rarely screen users. All it takes to become a member is a username, a password and 5 minutes to build a profile. Users can upload pictures and they can post any information about themselves that they want including how to reach them in the real world. The sites are not monitored on an individual basis but instead operate under a complaint system. If another user or an outside individual, like a parent or teacher, complains about a profile only then do the site administrators bother to look at it. And while complaints are taken seriously, especially those made by parents, most profiles go unmonitored making these types of websites a prime target for Internet predators.

It is extremely easy to lie about who you are in an online profile. You can post any picture you want and claim it is of you. Predators do this without remorse. They pose as teenaged girls when they are really grown men and pictures posted alongside the false profile fool other users (this is called "catfishing").

Predators also pose as ideal boyfriends, making them seem to be every girls dream guy, and again, they add pictures to bolster the deception. They predators then befriend teens and work to earn their trust. Sometimes they try to make the teens fall in “love” with them. Once trust is earned it seems only natural to make a date to meet face-to-face. Since many teens that meet people online do so in secret, without telling parents or even real life friends about their activities, face-to-face meetings are often set up without anybody else knowing. And while the taboo surrounding online relationships has dramatically decreased in recent years what hasn’t changed is the secrecy with which most teens conduct themselves online. It is ironic that the same teens who post many pictures of themselves and leave detailed profiles at public sites are unlikely to tell people in real time what they are up to.

Wanna play it safe in the online dating world?  Here are the Do's and Don'ts of Online Relationships for Teens:

Don't:

  • Give out your real name, address, birthdate, and location to anyone whom you met over the internet.  That person may not be who they are portraying to be, so they don't need to know personal details about you. 
  • Meet up with online "friends" alone.  If you choose to meet someone online in person, be sure to take a friend with you and to meet in a very public place, like a shopping mall or a crowded Starbucks. 
  • Send anyone money who you have met online.  There are a ton of scam artists out there who know enticing tricks to take advantage of teenagers.  Don't fall prey to giving out your bank account routing number or other information regarding finances because someone may hack into your accounts.
  • Accept friend request from people who you have no connection to at all.  Most sites have some sort of "friend filter" where you can see how a new person might friend request you because you may have another connection with them.  Don't accept friend requests from people who have no connection with you at all.  It's likely that there might be something fishy going on.
  • Engage in explicit sex-talk or send sext pictures online.  There are some online users who may try to speak in adult explicit language involving curse words and sexual profanity. Don't engage in this type of talk. The same goes for pictures, don't send any explicit pictures either.  Remember that what is posted online can be traced, shared, and spread everywhere...and you want to guard your reputation so don't mess it up by posting something offensive online. 

Do:

  • Report any offensive or negative online correspondence to the website's support team and to your parents.  There are online bullies who love to taunt teens online.  If this happens to you, be sure to report it so that the bully can be stopped. 
  • Keep private information private.  Never give out your social security number and other identifiable information over the internet.  Someone could use it to steal your identity. 
  • Keep your passwords to the various websites in a safe place.  The last thing that you would want would be for your annoying little brother or that weird friend from school to hack into your account and start messaging people. Keep your passwords private and in a safe place that only you know about. 
  • Be real online. Don't try to be someone who you are not.  Nobody likes fake people.  If you're going to date online, be yourself.  The people who you are speaking to will appreciate you more. 

Updated by Keisha Howard,Teen Advice Expert. 

So how do you stay safe while still meeting people online? There are old rules and new rules you should strictly abide by. Some of these you’ve likely heard before, and with good reason. So here they are, the cardinal rules of online relationships…
  • Unless you already know the person offline, always assume the person you are dealing with on the Internet is not who they claim to be and conduct yourself accordingly.
  • Never give out personal information like last name, addresses, phone numbers, school names or where you work online.
  • Never post provocative pictures of yourself or anybody else.
  • If an online friend starts getting intimate with you or asks you sexually suggestive questions back off and ignore them in the future. If they persist, tell a parent or other trusted real world adult and report them to the site administrator.
  • Never arrange to meet an Internet friend alone. If you must meet them do so in a very public and neutral place (like a mall food fair), bring along a few friends and TELL AN ADULT. (Ideally this adult will also go with you even if they hang back and don’t actually appear to be with you.)
  • Once you’ve met an online friend never go anywhere private with them until you know them better, as well as you would expect to know a school friend before being alone, and have been out in public with them just about as often as you have your offline friends.
  • Never arrange to travel great distances alone to see an online friend, even if you’ve already met face-to-face.
  • Always tell your parents (or another trusted adult, like a teacher, aunt or uncle, social worker, or guardian) what you are up to, where you will be and when you will be back and don’t deviate from your plans without clearing it with them first.
  • Never ask another person to lie for you so you can meet an online friend. If your meeting has to start with a lie it can’t possibly be good.
The Truth About Internet Friend Sites The Rules of Internet Realtionships So how do you stay safe while still meeting people online? There are old rules and new rules you should strictly abide by. Some of these you’ve likely heard before, and with good reason. So here they are, the cardinal rules of online relationships…
  • Unless you already know the person offline, always assume the person you are dealing with on the Internet is not who they claim to be and conduct yourself accordingly.
  • Never give out personal information like last name, addresses, phone numbers, school names or where you work online.
  • Never post provocative pictures of yourself or anybody else.
  • If an online friend starts getting intimate with you or asks you sexually suggestive questions back off and ignore them in the future. If they persist, tell a parent or other trusted real world adult and report them to the site administrator.
  • Never arrange to meet an Internet friend alone. If you must meet them do so in a very public and neutral place (like a mall food fair), bring along a few friends and TELL AN ADULT. (Ideally this adult will also go with you even if they hang back and don’t actually appear to be with you.)
  • Once you’ve met an online friend never go anywhere private with them until you know them better, as well as you would expect to know a school friend before being alone, and have been out in public with them just about as often as you have your offline friends.
  • Never arrange to travel great distances alone to see an online friend, even if you’ve already met face-to-face.
  • Always tell your parents (or another trusted adult, like a teacher, aunt or uncle, social worker, or guardian) what you are up to, where you will be and when you will be back and don’t deviate from your plans without clearing it with them first.
  • Never ask another person to lie for you so you can meet an online friend. If your meeting has to start with a lie it can’t possibly be good.
The Truth About Internet Friend Sites