There was a time that dating online was seen as a little weird or even pathetic. But the stigma of online dating is pretty much a thing of the past and plenty of people, both gay and straight do much of their dating over the Internet.
But is this the best idea for teens? The answer is, it really depends on the situation.
The number one concern for teens who are thinking of dating online is safety. Though teens are far more likely to be harassed or bullied by another kid online than they are to be targeted by a predator, this is still something to keep in mind.
- Remind yourself, if you are corresponding with someone you met online and that person makes you feel uncomfortable, stop communicating with him or her.
- Trust your instincts and remember that online, there are no guarantees that people are who they claim to be. If you suspect someone is not who she or he claims to be, there is a good chance you are right.
- If anything goes wrong, tell an adult who you trust.
- If you think someone might not be who they claim to be, do a video chat. In this day and age, someone who is able to get online, can generally be expected to figure out how to video chat as well.
- Never meet someone you think might be an adult. If you plan to meet someone you think is a teen, make sure you do so in a public location.
Choose Your Site Wisely
Most standard dating sites require that participants be at least 18-years-old. Don't lie about your age to use an adult site. Doing so could get you, and anyone you are in touch with, in real trouble. Stick to sites geared towards teens.
One Teen's Experience
A lot of people have positive online dating experiences. But others discover that while they might be looking for a relationship, the people the connect with seem to only want something physical. Or that they just can't connect with anyone no matter how hard they try.
Here is what happened to one teen. He writes:
"I'm so sick and tired of meeting guys online who don't want a relationship. It isn't their fault if they're not interested in me, I'm just cursing my own bad luck. Every person I add over MSN doesn't want a relationship, or I'm not the one they're looking for. It makes me really doubt myself, because here I am, putting in so much effort to getting to know the person on the other side...I want a boyfriend so much right now. I don't know what I have to do. The internet seems to be the only avenues to find other gay people."
Now this is just one person's experience, but it is an important reminder that dating online can be just as frustrating as dating in person.
The desire to be in a romantic relationship is a real and legitimate one. And it is normal and natural for teens to turn to the current medium that so many people use to do so. But it is also important to realize that online communication is a little different than face-to-face interactions and that for teens, protecting their physical and emotional safety has to be the top priority.
As the Guide to Gay Life says, "You never know where a match will hit: the mall, Starbuck's...or the grocery store. People throw up red flags when it comes to the 'net because it's all too easy for creeps to hide behind monitors and keyboards. There are just as many dangers meeting someone them person and not always as obvious."