What is cyber grooming? What can we do as parents? How to make sure our children are safe online? In this article we want to support you with information and guidance on the subject. Please note that this article contains content that may elicit strong emotional responses in trauma survivors.
Child grooming is the practice of establishing an emotional bond with and gaining the trust of a child for the express purpose of physically or sexually abusing the child, often on multiple occasions. This abuse can be extended as far as forcing the child into sex trafficking or child labor. In most cases, child grooming starts with the parent’s or legal guardian hereinafter referred to simply as parent/s.
Once a parent starts to trust the predator, it becomes much easier for the predator to begin the grooming process. The key goals for all abusers looking to groom a child are the following: trust (both from the parent and child), time alone with the child, and lack of proper supervision by the parents. Proper supervision is something I cannot stress enough. Keeping an eye on what your kids are doing can prevent a disaster from happening.
What is cyber grooming?
In today’s constantly connected world, With almost everyone having access to the web, where anyone can interact with anyone behind a veil of anonymity, the world faces a much higher risk of someone grooming our children without us even knowing. Cyber grooming is a form of child grooming where the predator targets a child online, building a virtual relationship with them, gaining their trust, and learning the best way to gain access to them in the real world.
For a predator, connecting to children online can be easy. Some opt to join a kid-friendly chat room and pretend to be a child while others play an online game with them where the predator can privately communicate with the child. Often the predator will entice a child to trust them with gifts and promises while also using language that normalizes sexual language and actions.
Cause and effect
In many cases, a child will not tell a parent these types of actions are taking place for fear of being disbelieved or punished. In other cases, the child may feel their predator is their friend and won’t want to get them into trouble. Due to this, most cases of cyber grooming go unnoticed, especially by busy parents who don’t take the time to check what their child does online.
The easiest way for a child predator to gain a foothold is for a child to go online unsupervised and interact with people the parent hasn’t properly vetted. Second is that the child is unaware of the danger of cyber predators. If you don’t have the important talk with your child about online stranger danger and predators, then they won’t know what to look for, making them unable to tell you when it happens. These talks can be hard and embarrassing, but they are some of the most important when it comes to your child’s safety.
What can we do against cyber grooming?
One of the absolute best things a parent can do to protect their children is to monitor the child’s online activity. This doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time looking over your child’s shoulder.
Periodically ask them to show you what they are doing and who they are talking to. Open dialog with your children about the danger of strangers online is always a good idea. Trust is a two-way street, and you will need to believe what they say when you investigate the situation.
Website management and blocking
Another way to prevent online predators and cyber grooming is to manage the websites the children can visit. Setting limitations and blocking dangerous websites can go a long way toward protecting your child. Many browsers have built-in security allowing you to blacklist sites you do not want your children visiting. This gives you the ability to block those sites behind a password keeping your children from accessing them without your presence. Google Chrome, for instance, has a method for blocking websites.
The games your kids play
Kids are spending a lot of time online these days. Online gaming is a rapidly growing trend, and kids are a significant part of that populace. This means they have plenty of opportunities to get themselves wrapped up in some creep’s schema and not even know what’s going on until it’s too late.
An excellent way to prevent this is to check the ESRB rating of the games your kids are playing and read the content information. Video games, chatrooms, and social media are not inherently bad, but there are people out there who are on the hunt for a child for any of several terrible reasons.
The best thing you as a parent can do is be an active part of your child’s online life; talk with them, set boundaries, and restrict access to things they shouldn’t have access to. Give them the knowledge and tools to know what to look out for so they can tell you when someone is trying to groom them. Believe them when they tell you someone is acting strange or scary, be cautious, and try to stay ahead of the curve.
YouTube: Children Online and Cyber Grooming
Photo credits: The feature photo has been taken by Kelly Sikkema. The photo in the body of the article has been taken by Alexander Dummer.
Sources: NSPCC / Wendy L. Patrick, JD, Ph.D. (Psychology Today) / ESRB