Grooming is when an adult makes inappropriate contact with a child for sexual satisfaction and exploitation. They build relationships (often under a false identity) and gain the child’s trust. They may even try and meet that child or ask them to send pictures across. The Groomer is not always a stranger but could be a family member, friend or neighbour.
Tips to avoid grooming
- As soon as your child starts to use any social media or communication services online it is important to help them understand who they should or should not be contacting. Encourage them to only have contact with people they and you know in the real world (or at least make sure they limit what they share with strangers – particularly avoiding sharing photos, videos or their location) and to tell you when they make new friends online. For Primary School aged children talk to them in the context of ‘Stranger Danger’.
- Teach your child that people aren’t always honest when online. Explain that older people might pretend to be the same age as them, that they go to the same school, or lie about their gender. Unless you know the person in real life, you could be talking to anyone.
- Ensure you know what social media/communication services your child is using. Become a friend/follower/subscriber on each service wherever possible and ask your child to tell you when they join a new service.
- Try not to be overly strict and ban all usage as they are more likely to hide it from you. Instead set rules that allow sufficient freedom for your child whilst letting you monitor what they are doing and providing clear boundaries. For example, allow them to use only services you’ve approved and ones you have passwords for on the understanding that you can check all of their activity whenever you like.
- Ensure you know who your child is talking to – ask them about friends they may have met online (but try not to do this in an accusing way) and who may have contacted them. Try and discourage any friends they don’t know personally. If you have any concerns about an individual, ask to look at the messages they are receiving and explain why you are asking to look (trust is important – if your child doesn’t feel like you trust them, they may reject communication around the topic).
- Show your child that you will support them and make sure they know that they can come to you with any concerns they may have. Whatever they might have done, they need to know they can talk to you if someone does something they are uncomfortable with, whether that is inappropriate comments, images, requests or sexual comments.
The SMART rules (Credit: KidSMART) can help your child remember how to stay safe online:
Keep safe by being careful not to give out personal information when you’re chatting or posting online. Personal information includes your email address, phone number and password.
Meeting someone you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. Only do so with your parents’ or carers’ permission and even then only when they can be present. Remember online friends are still strangers even if you have been talking to them for a long time.
Accepting emails, IM messages, or opening files, pictures or texts from people you don’t know or trust can lead to problems – they may contain viruses or nasty messages!
Someone online might lie about who they are and information on the internet may not be true. Always check information with other websites, books or someone who knows. If you like chatting online it’s best to only chat to your real world friends and family
Tell your parent, carer or a trusted adult if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried, or if you or someone you know is being bullied online.
When to worry
As your child may not be aware of what’s happening to them (they may fully believe they are talking to another child from across the world, which is totally innocent) it can be difficult to spot signs at an early stage. Using the tips above will give you the best chance of noticing if something inappropriate is going on.
If your child is being/has been groomed they may start to show signs of sexual abuse, such as:
- Changes to their emotional state or behavioural problems
- Becoming withdrawn from family and friends, secretive and generally isolating themselves
- A sudden lack of interest in extra curricular activities
- Indicating that they are going to meet people you haven’t heard of in unusual places
If you start to see these signs or become concerned for another reason, take action immediately. Any inappropriate contact should be reported to the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection service) via the ClickCEOP button on that website. The sooner you report your concerns the less likely your child is to come to real harm and you may well save another child in the process too.