The thought of telling my mother that I had met men on an app was mortifying. I started Tinder-ing three years ago, after moving from Indonesia to attend graduate school at Emerson College in Boston. I was lucky to match with a sweet guy who is now my boyfriend, but I waited six months before confessing to my mother that we had met online, fearful she’d want to launch into a talk about safety and sex.
I’m not alone in this approach. Several local students told me that while they’re comfortable talking to their parents about dating, there’s one aspect they’ll avoid at all costs: their use of dating apps. They say their parents unfairly associate these apps with hookups and don’t understand why meeting strangers online feels so natural to our generation.
Devorah Heitner, the Chicago-based author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, says parents equate dating apps with casual sex. But the way students socialize online isn’t all that different from the way their parents did in school, Heitner says.
“The reality is a lot of young people are even meeting kids on social media or other peers on social media who, in fact, are on campus with them or just within the local community,” Heitner says. “So it may not be as different as parents might think.”
Bella Kuhl, 19, started using Tinder and Bumble after arriving at Boston University two years ago, drawn to the way they allowed her to date without feeling like she had to commit. She says she has no problem telling her parents about the men she meets, but won’t mention the apps.
“I wouldn’t want my parents to think that I was just, like, swiping and having sex with any guy that I match with,” Kuhl says.
Pia Campbell, a senior at Boston University, describes her romantic app life as a “foreign concept” to her parents.
“I don’t talk about my dating life with [my parents] because they just don’t understand how I want to have all these experiences and discover my sexuality,” the 22-year-old says.
Shing-Yun Chiang, 27, a Taiwanese grad student at Northeastern University, met her boyfriend of six years on Dcard, a popular social networking app in Taiwan, but told her parents that they connected at school. She knew her mother especially would have been worried for her safety.
“I didn’t dare to tell my parents [about the app],” says Chiang. “They’re older people from an older generation, so they are not as familiar with the Internet as us.”
Two years after she introduced her boyfriend to her parents, Chiang finally told her father the truth. She still hasn’t told her mother.