Chatting to strangers online
Advice for Parents & Carers
Learn about helping your child understand the difference between friends and those who may seek to do them harm to ensure they have a safer online experience on social media.
While connecting online can be a lifeline, it can also leave children at risk of issues such as online grooming. Like all children, those with additional needs can be manipulated into building strong bonds with people they’ve only met online so they are quick to consider these people friends rather than strangers.
It’s important to build their understanding around who their real friends are and what a good friend is.
- Make sure they know why it’s important to protect their personal information and what information they should keep private
- Talk to them about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like so they can recognise the signs if they are at risks. You can share this video from Amaze.org to help start the conversation
- Spend time looking at privacy settings on the platform they use to manage who can see their profile and what they share. See our privacy guide to learn how
- Review the apps, sites, and games they engage with to be aware of how they interact and discover together any new safety features that could help them stay safe
- 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
- Make sure they never meet someone they only know online without a parent present
- If something makes your child feel 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
- To explain the concepts of what is appropriate to share and what grooming is, you can use the NSPCC Pants video and Share Aware videos
- You can also encourage them to watch the ThinkUKnow Play Like Share films to help children learn how to spot pressuring manipulative behaviour online alongside a game – Band Runner – to learn how to stay safe from risks they might face
Steps to take if your child is a victim of online grooming:
- Have an open conversation – Get as many details about what has gone on and assess the situation together to ensure your child feels supported and confident that they will get the help they need
- Report it to the authorities – If you think your child – or another child – could be in immediate danger tell your local police
See ‘Where to go for help’ below for a list of organisations and services to get help.
- Talk to them about how to protect their personal information and make sure they know that not everyone online is who they say they are
- Check the settings on devices to make sure they can only see and do what you’ve agreed together
- Keep devices in shared family spaces to keep an eye on how they are interacting with others
- Play sound on speakers, not a headset to hear what is being said
- Turn notifications on your account on the console (Xbox/PlayStation) so you’ll be notified if they get a direct message
- Set up your children’s account so you can monitor their account separately to your own
- Use settings to create groups of real friends they can play with
- Play together to get a better understanding of who they are playing with
- Try to do this activity together – What is a real friend?
- Find out more about who this person is and the true nature of the relationship to address the issue
- Talk about what a healthy positive relationship looks like
- Discuss what they should and shouldn’t share online (even if they trust that person)
- Build their body-confidence by using compliments to reinforce their positives and stop them from seeking these from the wrong source
- Talk about consent so they feel confident to say no if they are feeling pressured to do something they are not comfortable with
- Don’t make them feel bad about seeking affection online but take the time to explain the safest way to explore their feelings
- Review their list of friends to make sure you aware of who they are interacting with
You may find this guide helpful: Council for Disabled Children Sex and Relationship.
- Explore the facts – Who was the image shared with and was it passed on
- Contact the website provider – ask for the image to be removed from the platform (see how to report images here)
- Contact the school – if the image was sent to someone at school
- Contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) if the image was sent to an adult as this is grooming
- Reassure them that you will work together to deal with it
- If they can’t talk to you, direct them to trusted support like Childline to talk to trained counsellors
- Talk about the nature of relationships online – talk about how people don’t always have the best intentions
You may find this helpful: So you got naked online…
Remember – You can also contact the administrators of any social media app or platform, they should have a report function.
Where to go for help