The Internet has become a valuable resource, but it can also be a dangerous place for children in particular. It’s incredibly easy for people to pretend to be someone they aren’t, lulling children into a false sense of security, which can lead to dangerous situations. However, there are ways to prevent these issues. Keeping children safe online should be a top priority. Learning everything you can about online grooming, including what it means and how to stop it, can help you find the best way to protect your children and help make the Internet a safer place.

What Is Grooming Online?

The first step is to define online grooming so you know what you are looking for. So what is online grooming? In short, it is talking with someone online in a way that elicits trust so you can entice them to do something in the future. This process can take a lot of time, but it can be incredibly dangerous for the victim if the behaviour isn’t identified and it continues through to trusting someone enough to agree to meet in person. This is how children can be kidnapped, raped or killed by someone they met online. The goal is to create a sense of trust, luring a child to feel like they know someone well enough to provide personal information that can put them at risk.

Groomers typically create fake online profiles that make them appear to be another child using the online resource. They will begin talking to children, gauging their reactions and their willingness to answer questions to help them select their next victim. Once the groomer has gained the child’s trust, he or she will turn the conversation into sexual topics. This may involve discussions only or it may develop into sending nude photographs back and forth. Once the child sends these pictures, the groomer may use them to threaten or guilt the child to continue the relationship. Eventually, the goal is to convince the child to meet in person, which will lead to sexual assault.

Unfortunately, not all groomers are complete strangers. In some cases, the groomer is a family friend or a family member who has met the child in person before. They will then use the Internet to build up a relationship and sense of trust with the child. This type of child grooming is often overlooked because parents also trust the individual and don’t think they are capable of this type of behaviour. This can make Internet grooming even more dangerous.

What Do Predators Do?

Predators who take part in child grooming often use the same tactics to reach their victims. Some of the common behaviours of the predator can include:

  • Manipulating the child’s thinking by becoming someone they think they can trust
  • Exploiting natural sexual curiosity
  • Driving a wedge between the victim and their family and friends
  • Complimenting the child often
  • Making promises of a better life
  • Asserting control over the child
  • Affirming their feelings and lending a sympathetic ear
  • Reassuring against insecurities

These behaviours are designed to build that level of trust required to allow for sexual assaults to happen. However, these predators won’t hesitate to revert to threatening behaviour if they feel the child won’t comply or is second guessing the relationship.

Online Grooming Statistics

Many people don’t realize how common online grooming can actually be. However, statistics show sexual grooming and other forms of online grooming are major problems that need to be addressed to fully protect children. The following statistics can help you understand the serious nature of the problem and the importance of protecting children while they spend time online:

  • A majority of online grooming takes place in chat rooms, though only 18 percent of children use them.
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that 80 million child porn images were created in 2002.
  • 82 percent of sexual crimes online are against minors.
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
  • Nearly 90 percent of sexual assault is by a family member or other trusted adult.
  • 56 percent of children solicited online are asked for a picture.
  • A majority of grooming victims are between the ages of 13 and 15.
  • 1 in 7 kids has been sexually solicited online.

These issues can occur during just about any activity a child participates in online. In fact, 37 percent of groomers use chat rooms, 40 percent use instant messaging and 21 percent use other methods, such as gaming sites.

Signs of Online Grooming

In most cases, Internet grooming can be identified before it becomes a serious problem. Online grooming facts show that many children who are interacting with someone who is using these techniques to groom their victims will show other signs in their daily lives. Knowing what these signs are will help you take notice before it is too late for your own child. Be sure to watch for:

  • Being extremely secretive about online activities
  • Wanting to spend too much time online
  • Having older significant others
  • Going to unusual places to “meet friends”
  • Receiving new clothes, electronics or other gifts from an unknown source
  • Taking part in drugs or alcohol

Many of these behaviours are explained by spending time with someone who is grooming the child and may be working hard to build that trust before the assault occurs. If you notice any of these signs, you need to talk to your child immediately to prevent further problems and to provide protection for your child’s needs.

What Can You Do?

Many online grooming cases can be prevented altogether if parents took the proper steps to ensure the safety of their children online in the first place. As your child gets older, this can become more difficult because privacy becomes an important factor. However, there are still things you can do to reduce the chances your child will become the victim of Internet grooming.

  • Know what your child is doing online. You can use tracking software to keep an eye on what they are doing or simply keep the conversation going. Always keep computers and other devices in public areas of the home.
  • Talk to your child about grooming practices. Many children aren’t aware this happens and therefore, don’t know what to look for. A simple conversation regarding not providing personal information online and being careful about who you talk to can arm a child with the information necessary to stay safe.
  • Monitor your child’s phone and financial transactions. If there are calls and texts from people you don’t know or your child is sending money to someone, you may have a problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Watch your child’s behaviours. A drastic change in the way your child behaves can be a clear indicator of a serious problem. In some cases, it may not be online grooming, but in just about every situation, a change in behaviour is a red flag. Even if it’s not Internet grooming, it’s time to seek help.

If you identify your child is being groomed, start by blocking the groomer’s email address, phone number and instant messenger names. Next, contact the authorities and turn over any chat logs or any other physical information you have. This can be invaluable in helping them find the groomer and stop him or her from hurting anyone else.

In addition to arming your child with information and keeping an eye on what they do online, as well as their behaviours, talking to your child regularly can help prevent issues with grooming. Many children who fall, victim, feel distanced from their parents and may feel like they can’t talk to them. If you keep the lines of communication open and make sure your child knows he or she can trust you, you have a much better chance of knowing when something is amiss as soon as it happens, protecting your child.

Keeping children safe online can be a difficult task. Today’s youth rely heavily on the Internet for educational, as well as recreational, purposes. Online grooming has become a real threat to many children. Make sure you know what it is and how to identify the signs so you can put a stop to it before your child is at risk. Don’t let your child become the next victim of an online groomer. Take these steps to offer support and make sure your child is interacting safely online.