There’s a chance that your child may meet people online who aren’t who they say they are. Grooming is a word used to describe people befriending children in order to take advantage of them for sexual purposes. Many parents worry about online grooming so it’s important to talk to your children about how to stay safe.
How does online grooming work?
It’s easy to pretend to be someone else on the internet, so children can sometimes end up having conversations with people whose real identities they may not know.
A short video offering advice on how to talk to younger children about stranger danger in the online world.
Groomers may go to a social network used by young people and pretend to be one of them. They might attempt to gain trust by using fake profile pictures, pretending to have similar interests, offering gifts and saying nice things to the child.
Once they have the child’s trust the groomer often steers the conversation towards their sexual experiences, even asking them to send sexual photographs or videos of themselves. Some may try to set up a meeting, or even blackmail children by threatening to share the pictures or videos with the child’s family and friends.
Online groomers are not always strangers. In many situations they may already have met them through their family or social activities, and use the internet to build rapport with them. Sometimes children don’t realise they’ve been groomed, and think that the person is their boyfriend or girlfriend.
Is my child being groomed?
Online grooming may be hard for parents to recognise because it can happen when children are at home. Also, groomers may specifically warn children not to talk to anyone about it. There are a number of signs to be aware of (although a lot of them are quite common among teens), but look out for increased instances of:
- wanting to spend more and more time on the internet
- being secretive about who they are talking to online and what sites they visit
- switching screens when you come near the computer
- possessing items – electronic devices or phones – you haven’t given them
- using sexual language you wouldn’t expect them to know
- becoming emotionally volatile.
Talk about grooming with your child
Grooming can be a tricky subject to talk about with your children but the tips below may help:
Let them know you are there to help them if they get into trouble online – and if they are concerned about something they can come to you.
Talk to them about their online friendships
Find out what sites they go to, where they met their online friends, how they communicate and what information they share. Make sure they know that having thousands of online ‘friends’ isn’t always safe.
With older children
Teenagers may be very protective of their online network and feel you are interfering with their private lives. Take a look at this resource from CEOP, which is an excellent source of advice for communicating with older children.
Tell them about online grooming
Explain how easy it is to pretend to be someone else online, and why an adult may wish to approach them.
With younger children
Talk about grooming as you would stranger danger – a stranger is anyone you don’t know, whether in real life or online. Tell them they shouldn’t talk privately or give personal information to anyone they don’t know. Discuss with them what ‘personal information’ is.
How do I protect my child from being groomed?
The best way to deal with grooming is to prevent it 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 be 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, photographs – should only ever be shared with people they know.
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.
Be safe in real life
Never arrange to meet someone they only know online without a parent present.
If something makes your child worried or uncomfortable online their best course of action is always to talk to an adult they trust.
If you believe your child is being groomed:
Report it to the authorities
If you think your child – or another child – could be in immediate danger tell your local police at once.
You can report any concerns about online grooming to the National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command.
Report any child abuse images you find hosted by websites to the Internet Watch Foundation.
Parents can call the NSPCC’s free 24/7 adult helpline on 0808 800 5000, email email@example.com or text 88858. You can also contact the Stop it Now! helpline (0808 1000 900) where you can seek advice anonymously.
If you want to find out more about how to help protect your child and educate them about online grooming, these resources will be useful:
BBC Webwise: Parenting Online: Know your child
- Tech knowledge: How Children use devices at school and at home, September 2015. Pg.48
- Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report (Oct 2014) p.138, Figure 98
- Tech knowledge: How Children use devices at school and at home, September 2015. Pg.4