Myra (name changed) was a regular 13-year-old child, who discovered the wonderful world of the internet. Initially, there was scrolling through Wikipedia to gather information. Then after a while, she discovered social media and made an account on a popular site. She made friends, mostly from school.
One day, a young man added her on the site. Initially, she was reluctant because her parents had warned her not to speak to strangers, but the man began chatting with her and slowly in a few days, gained her trust. She added him.
And that’s where the problems started.
Myra may be one of the million cases where children are fooled by adults posing as younger people. Your child may meet such individuals on the internet — a term now called Cyber Grooming. It is a term used to describe these people who befriend children and then take advantage of them for sexual purposes.
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 labour. In most cases, child grooming starts with the parent’s or legal guardian hereinafter referred to simply as a 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.
How Does It Work?
Groomers may sound sophisticated in the English dictionary, but these individuals are sexual predators, usually paedophiles targeting unsuspecting children. They are likely to use fake profile pictures, change names, mention a younger age, and know about your child’s interests because they are constantly stalking them. They can offer gifts, invite them to nice ‘grown-up’ places and even be nice to them, claiming that they understand everything that the child goes through and want to help.
It takes a few months to build that level of trust, but once they do, they start having conversations that are sexual and after a point, ask them to send nude photos and explicit content to them. They make them believe that they’re doing the right thing and address the children as their ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’. A lot of these online groomers even try to blackmail children by telling them that the sexual photos will be sent to their parents, family and friends.
Is Your Child A Target?
While it may be a little difficult to recognize, a lot of grooming usually takes place at home, when your child is online. Groomers are experts in their domain, and usually ask children to keep this a ‘secret’ between both of them. Children usually do as asked for the sheer thrill of the experience and being tagged as ‘responsible’ and ‘grown-up’ by another party. And it’s usually at an age where children start to rebel against their parents
Here are a few signs that you need to recognize –
What You Can Do
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 dialogue 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 ratings 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.
So, remember — Stay alert, stay focused and stay happy