Online grooming – keeping young people safe

Online grooming is when an adult tries to build a relationship with a young person online so they can sexually exploit them in some way.

Online groomers will spend months, sometimes years, building up a relationship so they can exploit the young person.

However, some online groomers won’t wait and will immediately offer gifts or money in exchange for sexual images, videos or naked webcam footage.

There are many tactics online groomers use to try to get close to a young person. They build up a relationship by doing things like pretending to be someone they aren’t by using a fake photo or profile, buying gifts online or offline, pretending to have a shared interest or asking for the friendship/relationship to be kept secret.

Once that trust has been built, online groomers will then try to turn the situation sexual through conversations or sharing and/or asking for nude or nearly nude content.

Here are some top tips to help keep your child or young person safe from online groomers:

1. Start the conversation early

Talk to your child from a young age in an age-appropriate way about online safety in general. Tell them how some people online pretend to be people they are not and that you can’t always trust that the person is who they say they are.

2. Explain what online grooming is

As your child gets older, you can go into more detail (but still in an age-appropriate way) about online grooming and what it is. Explain what online groomers do and why. Whatever your child’s age, remind them that anything posted on the internet potentially stays there forever and for anyone to see.

3. Learn about your child’s online activities

Take the time to find out which apps or websites your child uses and why. Ask them why they like them and get them to show you how they work so you can understand any potential pitfalls.

4. Check your child’s privacy settings

Talk to your child about privacy settings, how they work and why they’re important. Check their privacy settings and make sure they are set as securely as possible so strangers can’t easily access information about them or contact them.

5. Keep devices in a common area

When your child is younger, have a rule that devices can only be used in common areas so you or another adult can keep an eye on what they’re doing online. For children of all ages, have set times they can go online and limit that time. You may also have a rule like devices aren’t allowed in their bedrooms after 7pm or something similar.

6. How to manage online friends

Explain to your child that they should only be friends with, or communicate with, people online that they actually know in real life. If someone they don’t know friend requests them or wants to chat, show them how to decline the request.

7. Keep communication lines open

Talk to your kids regularly about internet safety and online grooming. Let them know they can come to you if they have any questions or need any help. If they open up and tell you something, stay calm and offer advice in a non-judgemental way. Don’t over-react as this might stop them from coming to you in the future.

8. Be a good role model

Children will follow your lead and copy your behaviour, so be a good role model for them by acting responsibly online.

If you think your child is being groomed online, make sure you capture the evidence.

Where to get help

Netsafe provides free and confidential advice and help:

You can also report a crime to the police. If you’re concerned about your child’s immediate safety, call 111.

References

  1. Advise for parents about online grooming Netsafe, NZ, 2019
  2. How to report a crime or incident NZ Police
  3. How to record digital evidence Netsafe, NZ, 2020
  4. Online safety parent toolkit Netsafe, NZ
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.