Dangerous dating: Tampa Bay psychologist warns parents about teens dating online

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Love is in the air as Valentine’s Day approaches, but so is trouble. 

“We are finding out children are in relationships younger and younger and not having a full understanding or full development of what it means to be in a relationship,” said Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein. 

Dr. Katzenstein, the director of psychology and neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, says she has noticed a growing concern when it comes to teens on dating apps. 

“When it comes to trends, I am seeing a lot more engagement from social media,” Dr. Katzenstein said.

While most dating apps require you to be over the age of 18, teens are finding other ways to exchange romantic messages and sometimes explicit pictures. Katzenstein suggests teens are using apps like Snapchat and Tik Tok to connect.  

Some apps are even designed to hide private photos and videos on your phone. Apps like Vault allow users to hide their true online activity. 

“It may look like a typical app but when you click photos in a certain way, it opens up apps and photos kids are keeping in a secret vault,” said Katzenstein. 

Valentine’s Day also presents another set of problems like bullying and rejection. 

“When it comes to breakups, they are often even more public. If there is a breakup, especially as a parent, validating their feelings and making sure you are not saying to your child words like ‘there are more fish in the sea.’ We want to say words like ‘I am here for you’ or potentially give an example of how this has happened in your own life,” said Katzenstein. 

Katzenstein says it’s important to note certain behavioral changes in your child if they’re in a relationship or getting out of one. She suggests looking for: 

  • Mood changes 
  • A drastic change in appearance (i.e. how your child dresses or if they are taking less care of themselves) 
  • Significant other having more controlled over your child  
  • If your child loses joy in previously enjoyed activities

“Those are major red flags in a relationship,” she explained.

And being a helicopter parent could pay off in these situations. Dr. Katzenstein ultimately recommends having full  access to your child’s phone and social media accounts.

Apps designed to help monitor your child’s location or phone activity include:  

  • Net Nanny 
  • SecureTeen 
  • TeenSafe 
  • Find My Friends 
  • Glympse 

“I think it is important for parents to have full access to all social media. Having passwords to their child’s phones and social media accounts. Also, keep a good eye on how much contact your son and daughter is in – in terms of their relationship with that person – they are in a relationship with and what the content of those messages are. Knowing what every app does and if you don’t know ask because that is how our kids are getting into trouble,” Katzenstein said.

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