Our experts' guide to identifying grooming behaviors and how to safeguard kids from predators.
“Grooming” is the way sexual predators pursue people (usually children) through a telecommunications service or device. The speed of information and lack of security are two main factors that help them commit these acts against vulnerable children.
Grooming happens easily, and doesn’t necessarily discriminate. “Good kids” can innocently fall victim to online predators because of their developmental level (lack of critical thinking ability), and innocent willingness to trust others who seem like fun or exciting new friends.
Children and teenagers of all ages are vulnerable to online predators. Increased time alone and more frequent use of internet-enabled apps and games can result in increased vulnerability to online predators.
It is essential that parents ensure that children and teenagers are accessing platforms that are age-appropriate, and children are constantly supervised when playing online games or participating in online platforms. Furthermore, teenagers should not be left to their own devices (so to speak!). Speaking to teens about safe online communication is essential to keeping them safe against online threats and manipulative strangers.
The risk of online grooming increases if your child does any of these things:
Here are our three top insights direct from ySafe's leading cyber safety experts.
Online predators rely on situations where they can engage in conversations with children, without adults stepping in. Aside from other issues such as the impact on sleep due to reduced impulse control, devices in bedrooms allow for the proverbial door to be shut on chats, and essentially allows a stranger private time with your child. Predators are sophisticated in the ways they can manipulate unsuspecting children without parental supervision and involvement.
Hot Tip – If your child likes gaming, keep headphones out of game time for as long as possible. Parents need to hear what is being said, and more importantly who is speaking to them!
Problems occur when vulnerable kids’ online relationships start to become stronger than those in their real worlds. Online predators actively seek susceptible teens to prey on. They may encourage that child or teen to show reduced interest in those peers or family in their own home or school, and manipulate them to become more connected with the predator instead. Be sure to keep home relationships strong and compassionate, and while being open to the online world and the support it offers, parents must know who their kids are investing time in and why. It always pays to ensure home is truly where their heart is.
One of the biggest risk areas (and one that is commonly often overlooked by parents) is the presence of online or in-game chat, or open social media profiles which allow strangers to contact children directly. Even the most innocent looking games like Minecraft for example, connect kids straight into a melting pot of people they don’t know.
If you have younger children, it is helpful to discuss these 3 x rules of engagement with any person they come into contact with online.
If they can’t answer YES to those 3 questions, they either need to work on answering them with a parent's help, or disengage.
If you'd like to safeguard your child through education, here are the steps that we would recommend you take:
It is a hard but incredibly important step to remain calm if your child is involved in an adverse incident. It helps to explain that even adults get tricked into doing things they regret too.
Do your best to minimize anger or judgement, as it is very important that children feel they can come to you for help without being punished or criticized (this includes removing access to devices or platforms because of a mistake).
Make sure your child knows how to use their privacy settings on social media platforms and games, and how to restrict their online information.
Explain that they should not send photographs of themselves that clearly show their identity (including images of school or sports team uniforms). It is also important to turn off location services.
Tell them to use only a first name or nickname to identify themselves in online chat and on social media, and never to disclose their phone number, address, or school.
For younger children, ask them not to speak to anyone they don’t know in real life, and not to post or text images or videos without your permission.
Refer to the 3 golden rule questions, and ask your child if they can answer yes to all three when you do a dip sample of their friends. If they can’t, you need to be ready to have an open discussion about the rules, consequences, and reasons.
There are a multitude of places that children (and parents) can report suspicious or inappropriate behavior. It is incredibly important that you and your child take the steps to report people who do the wrong thing, and prevent harm occurring to not only your child but others who may be at risk. Just remember to screenshot and save the evidence as well!
How to report online safety issues.
Our simple ABC model is a practical and effective way to create a safe online environment for your family.
Age-appropriate app reviews and recommendations from the experts.