The internet is a great place to hang out, but it is also a dangerous place particularly for children. As children gain access to the internet through smart devices, social media, and online gaming platforms, they become more vulnerable. Nowadays, predators often use the internet to groom and sexually abuse children.

In general, Grooming is when an adult forges a relationship with a child by filling a need in their life or take advantage of a child’s vulnerabilities. This is a process that can occur over a period of time to ultimately exploit children through sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or trafficking.

This can happen in person or online. Not to mention, children can be groomed by people they know, family members, or strangers of any age or gender. Over time, the groomer normalizes sexual and intimate conversation thus making it acceptable to take actions they normally would not.

With the growth of social media platforms, online games, and instant message apps, children are able to talk to anyone – friends or strangers – from around the world within minutes. This can be a benefit for many making them less isolated but for some, it can leave them vulnerable to being groomed.

Safety Tips For Children On The Internet

Online grooming can happen on social media, gaming sites, or any site that allows individuals to communicate with one another. Since this kind of grooming happens online, the signs may be harder to recognize.

Try thinking about grooming, specifically online grooming, as a long game. Predators will take time to build trust and a relationship with your loved one. It is a process of coercion and manipulation.

Childline, an online service in the United Kingdom that helps young people with personal issues, shares some fantastic insight about online grooming and how predators maneuver themselves into your loved one’s life. They site six signs of grooming as:

  • Sending your child many messages
  • Telling the child to keep their conversations a secret
  • Asking questions to see if a child is alone in a room
  • Sending sexual messages that could be disguised as compliments or questions about past sexual experience
  • Trying to get personal information about the child or where they live
  • Manipulating children to send photos or blackmailing them with photos the child may have already sent

Similar to in-person grooming, online grooming works by building trust between the predator and the child. That said, the distinction between online grooming and grooming in person is that online predators can lie about their name, age, gender, life experiences, and everything else. So, while the child may think they know who they are talking to, they could have no idea who is behind the screen.

How To Protect Your Child Being Groomed?

The best way to deal with grooming is to prevent it from happening by making sure your child is well-informed, uses privacy settings on social networks, and knows that they can talk to you if they feel unsafe or worried. Teach your children how to stay safe online:

Keep Personal Information Private

Private details which could identify them in the real world – name, age, gender, phone number, home address, school name, and photographs – should only ever be shared with people they know.

Privacy Settings

Spend time together looking at the privacy settings. It’s always best to assume that default settings are public and should be changed accordingly.

Reviewing Apps, Site, Games They Use

You will probably use social networks yourself, but you might want to know about new ones that your child is using or wants to use. Use them yourself and set up your own account so you can experience what your child might see. There are also many child-friendly social networks they could use while they get ready for the likes of Snapchat and Instagram.

Know Who Their Friends Are

Talk to them about being cautious about what they share with people online. Remind them that even though people they’ve met online might feel like friends they may not be who they say they are.

Encourage Children To Talk To Someone

If something makes your child worried or uncomfortable online their best course of action is always to talk to an adult they trust. You can also direct them to organisations such as Childline.

Blocking Software

There is a range of new apps and software that block, filter and monitor online behavior. You’ll need to decide as a family whether this is the right approach for you, taking into consideration your child’s age and maturity, and their need for privacy.

Finally, ask your kid about their life online — every day.

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