The Danger Of Teenage Dating Apps: How I Posed As A 15-Year-Old Girl Online
This is a guest blog written by Lisa Schmidt, dating coach and matchmaker.
How and where are teens meeting & dating in 2015? Using a Google search, I found five of the first ten results were teen dating apps. A second search in the App Store brought up 91 results. The first result was “Spotafriend”, a Tinder alternative for teens, and the second was called “Hook up Now”. Mind you I entered the search term teen dating.
The majority amongst the others were mostly chat apps, with the exception of “spin the bottle” and “Asian flirt & hookup”. Because “Spotafriend” was in the top spot, I downloaded it and began to login with my personal Facebook account. The app asked me to now verify that I was a teen.
Well, this very high tech safe guard sequence was literally me, taking a selfie, holding up three fingers. The app then asks me to upload a photo of myself (which I found on Google) and walks me through a tutorial. I am now posing as a fourteen year girl. I later change this to fifteen. I’m a 42 year old woman; who is not supposed to be using this app, according to their disclaimer. I am already thinking what in the hell. This was far too easy to access.
According to the company’s LinkedIn page: “Meet teens near you with Spotafriend, the Tinder alternative for people ages 13-19……and swipe right to accept. If you both accept, you can chat privately. Teens today are way more open to different lifestyles and cultures. It’s hard to meet new friends when you’re stuck in school with the same people all day, year after year. Isn’t it time you did something a little different?”
What, these kids don’t meet people at school? They now need a gateway version of Tinder. And isn’t it up to their parents to expose them to different cultures and lifestyles? Bravo to your copywriter for her bullseye on teen angst, though.
Next up is my first search. Problem number one: this app is for ages 13-19. Why are they mixing men with little girls? 19-year-old’s are men and have no business mingling with 13-year-old girls and vice versa. Given the fact that kids are in fact having sex younger these days, this combination has danger written all over it. I’m going to pause here for a teen sex fact from the CDC. Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the U.S. and it often shows no symptoms. The highest rate of infection is among 15 to 19-year-olds.
Okay, back to my search. I searched for both male and female profiles. I have to say that at first glance, most photos are relatively innocent looking and very selfie-ish and very few teens bother to write anything about themselves in the description.
Now I face a dilemma. Do I initiate contact with one of these kids, for the purpose of journalism or just delete the app? If I do “like” someone, I am going to have to test a theory here and go straight for the 17-19 year olds. This is when I aged myself from fourteen to fifteen.
Yes, this app allows you to change your birthdate! Now I am wondering why this is even an option. Something like this just invites trouble. I go back to Google and find some pre-press for this app from earlier this year. “Spotafriend is secure Tinder for teens only ….Built for iPhone, Spotafriend has a security feature to block adults and predators….”
Secure my ass! Again, I am a 42-year-old woman using this app. Clearly there is no real safe guard, age restriction or parental control within this app, which frightens me. Oh but I forgot, as a teen today, I should be open to trying something different.
So I do it. I like 4 profiles of men 18 and 19 years old. Now I wait to see if they like me back.
While I’m waiting, I take to Facebook to ask parents what their concerns are. “The worst part for me is the techno aspect of dating for kids now – not forming face to face relationships- sexting – the whole shebang. It makes me scared for teenagers today”, says one mother. Another tells me that she deleted all teen apps from her son’s phone, and told him: “He needs to learn to talk to girls in the right way, and that is not through apps.”
I waited a few hours, received no likes back and had no conversations. I deleted my profile, because I could not stand the thought of exploiting these children. Nonetheless, the fact that I gained access to teenagers has me questioning just how safe our children are and how businesses can be more responsible in safe guarding them as well.
To make matters worse, take a look at the email the founder sent me when I stopped logging in. He wants my feedback.