Inappropriate Friendships and Grooming
Children and young people may chat or become ‘friends’ with people on social networks or online games, even if they don’t know them or have ever met them before.
Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. This can be easier online because people hide their age, gender, and identity. Children are often unaware they are being groomed, and think they are simply talking to a child of the same age. But remember, children can be at risk of online abuse from people they know, as well as from strangers.
Parents often fear that their children will be encouraged to meet up with online ‘friends’ and be abused. But children can also be exploited and abused online, by being persuaded or forced to:
- have sexual conversations by text or online
- send or post sexually explicit images
- take part in sexual activities via webcam or smartphone.
Parents have commented that "It’s inevitable that my kids are going to get their own social media accounts, but it’s about how I manage that and how I prepare them.”
What can you do?
Talk about healthy friendships
Discuss who they’re friends with online, how they choose their friends and what information they share. Recognise that many children enjoy chatting online, but remind them to be careful because people aren’t always who they say they are. Talk to them about healthy relationships and the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets. Encourage them to think about what sites they visit and the types of images and comments they share.
Encourage them to tell someone
Let your child know that they can talk to you or another adult they trust if something online makes them worried. It might be anything – sexual chat, being asked to do something that makes them uncomfortable, or someone insisting on meeting up.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) helps keep children safe from online grooming and sexual exploitation. The ‘report abuse button’ can be found on many websites or you can go to:
If you’re concerned about someone’s behaviour towards your child, you can report this directly to CEOP or, in an emergency dial 999