Trigger Warning: This article refers to online grooming and sexual exploitation. If you have been groomed or exploited online, contact An Garda Síochána immediately.
If you feel affected by any of the issues raised in this article and need to talk, Childline is ready to listen. Call 1800 66 66 66, send a text to 50101 or chat online at Childline.ie, 24 hours a day, every day.
DO understand the risks
All online communication comes with an element of risk. Sometimes, we can meet people online who aren’t who they say they are. Others may force us to do or share things that we don’t want to.
Avoid situations where a person insists that you share sexual photos or persistently asks for your current location. Say ‘no’ to any situation or request that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Remember: any adult who wants to talk about having sex with someone under 18 is doing something wrong and should be reported to An Garda Síochána right away.
Fraudsters can also use online dating to target people. Never send money or provide financial information to anyone you’ve met online.
If you’ve been scammed, contact An Garda Síochána as soon as possible.
DO know the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships
A healthy relationship is one that is defined by good communication, trust, love and mutual respect for each other’s boundaries.
It’s important to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships when you date someone, whether it’s online or offline. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Is the other person respecting your boundaries? Do they listen when you say ‘no’?
- Is the other person possessive? Do they expect you to reply to their messages right away?
- Is the other person trying to control who you speak to or what you wear?
DO know the tools to stay safe
Understand that you can always block or report someone who makes you feel scared or uncomfortable. Examples of behaviour that justify being blocked or reported include:
- Threatening and harassing others, or sending offensive messages
- Behaving inappropriately or dangerously, either in-person or online
- Creating fake profiles to deceive others
- Sending spam or solicitation with links to commercial websites
Many social media platforms provide reporting and blocking tools that you can use to communicate with someone you’re dating.
DO know there is always someone to talk to
Remember that you can always talk to a trusted adult (like a parent, carer, teacher, youth worker, etc.) if you encounter problems while online dating.
As well as that, Childline is always there if you don’t feel comfortable telling people around you.
DON'T feel pressured to send intimate images
Sexting or sending nudes is the act of sharing explicit images via a mobile, email or instant message. Some people think sending nudes is safe; others might feel forced to share sexual images of themselves or do something they aren’t comfortable with on a webcam.
However, these actions come with risks.
If you break up with someone, any sexual images you sent them might be shared non-consensually with others. This is often known as ‘revenge porn’. Sending nudes could also get you in trouble with the law.
DON'T meet them without someone else with you
No matter how old you are, it’s never a good idea to meet up with an online friend without someone else with you.
If you want to meet up with someone you met online, bring a trusted adult with you and arrange to meet in a public place.
DON'T forget about your real-life relationships
Online dating is exciting, but make sure you keep up with your friends and activities offline too.
Remember: the perfect person for you might not be the one you meet on an app!