Online sexual grooming is every parent’s worst nightmare. Here’s what you need to know to avoid your child falling prey to online predators.
How can you protect your child online when you might not be as digitally savvy as you’d like? Do you know what platforms predators show up on and what signs to look for if your child is at risk of being groomed online? The Singapore Media Literacy Council’s (MLC) Better Internet Campaign promotes online safety and a better Internet for all. They share expert tips on how to protect your child from being contacted online, signs to watch out for if they are being groomed, and what to do if your child has become a victim to online grooming. It’s difficult to think about your child falling prey to online predators, but being forewarned is forearmed so read on.
What is online sexual grooming?
Singapore’s Media Literacy Council explains that online grooming is the act of building up a trusting and emotional relationship with a minor, usually with the purpose of sexual exploitation, gratification or abuse. Online sexual grooming often takes place through an online platform, such as forums, chat groups, social media or messaging platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and gaming sites.
These predators may also frequent hobby groups to establish common ground with a child where they then ‘catfish’ (the act of pretending to be someone else online of similar age with similar interests to the child in order to establish a relationship). Predators build trust with their victims by giving them gifts and attention. They may then steer conversations towards sexual topics, and trick children into engaging in online sexual activity, such as displaying intimate areas over a webcam, or arranging face-to-face meetings. They may use emotional blackmail and coercion to pressure the child into compliance.
According to a 2018 report by digital education think tank DQ Institute, 16% of the respondents in Singapore aged between 8 and 12 had been involved in online sexual behaviours such as having searched for, and/or visited websites with sexual content, and/or having had sexual conversations online with strangers.
Some signs your child is being groomed online?
It may be hard to tell if your child is being groomed online as they may become secretive or exhibit other behaviours not described in this article, but there are some behavioural changes that experts say you should look out for:
- They may spend more time online and have difficulty staying away from their handphones or social media platforms.
- They may be excessively secretive about their online interactions with others, and are extremely resistant to parents going through their online conversations.
- They may receive gifts like clothes, phones or excessive cash that they cannot afford or account for.
- They may be constantly interacting online with people much older than them.
- They may use sexual language that their parents don’t expect them to know.
- They may exhibit unusual offline behaviours such as going out of the way or to remote places to meet up with friends.
- They may also display unusual traits such as withdrawal, anxiety, depression, aggression or clinginess.
5 ways parents can protect your child from online grooming:
As parents you should be aware that anything you share online about your children adds to their digital footprint, so avoid posts that reveal your child’s full name, school, interests and whereabouts.
- Ensure that your child is aware of what they share online and does not share sensitive information. Be sure to explain why this is important.
- Develop a close relationship with your child and create a safe environment where they can confide in you.
- Ask to view their messages if you are concerned and explain that it’s important that you know they are safe.
- Educate your child about sex, using age-appropriate content and teach them to set boundaries to protect themselves.
- Keep a close watch on your child’s online usage and activities, and learn more about what platforms they engage in, and for what purpose. Consider using parental controls on their devices if your children are very young.
What should you do if you suspect your child is a victim of online sexual grooming?
If you suspect your child is a victim of online sexual grooming, remain calm and do not overreact. It’s important not to condemn your child but provide assurance – they are not in the wrong, they are the victim. Request to view any online conversations and explain that you need to understand what’s happening. Call the police (1800 255 0000) to make a report. Next you should secure the devices and collect evidence by taking screenshots, which will be crucial evidence for police. You may find it helpful to call the TOUCH Cyber Wellness’ TOUCHline at 1800 377 2252 on weekdays from 9am to 6pm if you need to speak to counsellors who specialise in youth-related issues.
It’s so much better to be one step ahead and in the know to protect your kids so that the worst never happens. Check out MLC’s Better Internet Campaign 2020 (link) to help make a better internet that’s safer and kinder for your kids. Be Aware of What You Share. Visit the MLC Facebook page and Instagram @betterinternetsg for information on the Better Internet Campaign.