From playing games to doing schoolwork, the internet is heavily ingrained in almost every area of our children’s lives.
This much exposure to the internet comes with its own set of risks, with grooming being one of the most malicious things kids can be exposed to online.
Grooming does not discriminate and can happen to any child, which is why it’s important to understand the warning signs so we can put a stop to it as soon as possible.
What is grooming?
Grooming a sinister process where an adult tries to lure a child or parent into a false sense of security, with the intention of taking advantage of that child.
This process can be gradual, with the perpetrator manipulating the child or other adults close to them to gain their trust over months or even years.
Perpetrators will look for a gap in a child’s life and try to fill that void. For example, they might target a single parent and offer to take their child to sports games or do the school drop off and pick up.
This is carefully planned to avoid suspicion and can happen in stages, which is why it is vital for parents and guardians to be aware of the signs early on.
Signs a child is being groomed
The signs a child is being groomed are not always obvious. Keep an eye out for the following behaviours:
• They suddenly change friendship groups.
• They receive gifts like new toys, jewellery or clothes but won’t tell you where they came from.
• They talk a lot about an adult or another older child.
• They’re more secretive, for example stops talking to you about their day.
• Showing sexualised behaviour, knowledge or language that’s not appropriate for their age.
• Quickly switching screens or closing their laptop when you enter the room.
How to protect your child from grooming
Teach kids about boundaries. It’s important that kids understand that certain things, like their bodies, should be private.
Help kids set boundaries around people asking about their bodies and encourage them to come to you if someone is making them uncomfortable or someone oversteps a boundary.
Tighten up privacy settings. People trying to groom a child might pretend to be kids themselves, so it’s vital that kids how to block and report anyone who makes them uncomfortable. Ensure their privacy settings are tight and remind them to never give out personal information.
Monitor their online activity. Get to know where your kids spend most of their online time. Try to get familiar with the games they play as well as how privacy settings work on these platforms.
The more you know, the better equipped you are to notice if something seems off.
What to do if you think your child is being groomed
Listen. It takes a lot of courage for kids to speak up so listen carefully to what they have to say. Help them feel comfortable by staying calm and letting them know coming to you was the right thing to do.
Gather evidence. Ask your child if they have any screenshots or if they can show you chat history. Save the images and make a collection of evidence. Don’t delete any accounts or messages as these might need to be used by police as part of their investigation.
Report. Always report grooming to the authorities. If you’re unsure where to start, the police can help point you in the right direction.
Get help. Grooming can be incredibly distressing for both children and their parents. If your child is struggling, there are many organisations that can help get them back to being their happy, healthy self, so be sure to reach out.
Keeping kids safe is everyone’s responsibility. If you suspect a child might be the victim of grooming, don’t hesitate to reach out. It could make all the difference.