Who’s hiding behind those messages?

The majority of people use social media to keep in contact with their friends and family but for some it can be used as a tool to groom children and young people.

Children no longer know life without the internet and are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to technology and the latest apps. However, the internet is also an easy place for men and women to make contact with young people by hiding behind screens.

What is online grooming?

Grooming is about building a relationship with a child to get something from them, like images or videos, to meet them in person and to later abuse them.

Online gaming, social media and chatrooms enable anyone the opportunity to try and make contact with a child.

Men, and women, from 18 onwards can create fake online identities and pretend to be children themselves to trick real children into chatting and sharing.

They’ll do their research before they make contact by looking at other things the child had posted and other social media sites they are on. They can then use the information to plan their conversation.

Those who want to groom children will use any sites or apps which are popular with young people. On social media they might send multiple friend requests at random in the hope that a young person will accept them.

In games and chatrooms they’ll try to start conversations with young people and then ask them to chat privately through a different app.

Don’t panic and ban your child from the internet or social media but it’s fair to assume that if a site or app is popular with young people then those with a sexual interest in children will try to use it to communicate with them. Ensure they are aware of the risks that come with speaking to anyone online.

While some people might persuade a child to meet face to face, it’s becoming increasingly common for children to be tricked or coerced into sexual activity on a webcam or into sending sexual images.

There isn’t one clear sign of online grooming but the following signs from ThinkuKnow could be an indication:

·        Have they suddenly become very secretive? People who abuse will try to stop young people telling their friends and family about the abusive relationship.

·        Are they sad or withdrawn but won’t say why? If something is going on with your child online it might be really upsetting them. They might feel trapped, like they can’t talk about it. Let them know you’re there to listen.

·        Do they seem distracted? We can all get caught up in ourselves if things are worrying us. If they seem unusually preoccupied it might be because things are weighing on them which they feel they can’t talk about.  

·        Do they have sudden mood swings? Mood swings are not uncommon in adolescence but they can be a sign that someone has built a relationship with your child which is affecting their moods. 

·        Are they unable to switch off from their phone or social media? Lots of us find it hard not to check our phone or the internet, but if your child gets particularly worried or stressed when they can’t, this can be a sign someone is controlling them.

If you are concerned about someone your child is in contact with, contact your local police, children’s social care department or report directly to CEOP.

If you want to discuss your concerns with someone call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000. If you believe your child is at immediate risk call 999.

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