Internet grooming can be a misleading term in the realm of digital parenting and predator risk, and perhaps one that some parents aren’t aware of. The term “grooming” refers to online manipulation, usually by an adult, of a minor with the goal of establishing trust and eventually meeting offline. The motives vary but are often sexual. Less often the goal is financial gain.
Methods used by groomers are varied, but often involve impersonating a person in the victim’s age group, establishing a rapport through a common set of interests, flattery or humor, and developing a relationship over the course of weeks or months.
When successful, the end result can be sexploitation (“send me nude photos or else”), sexual assault or kidnapping, in the event that an in-person meeting does occur.
How to recognize it – Groomers are usually careful to keep their activities out of the purview of parents, so if your child is being targeted, that communication is probably happening in private. If you do see online questions like, “Where are your parents right now?” or “Do your parents monitor your online activity?”, that might be a red flag. Also, offers of modeling opportunities, or free stuff in general, should be looked at with a high level of skepticism.
How to prevent it – Rather than lamenting the fact that tweens and teens are spending what seems like endless hours online, parents need to accept that this generation will spend more time online than previous generations did, and that the nature of “relationships” online is different. Before a child ever joins a website or social network, enters an online forum or posts a selfie (eek! – keep those to a minimum and turn off Geo Tags), make sure he or she is aware of the fact that every person online may be less than genuine. We hate to say this, but any time your child makes a new “friend” online, there is a risk that this person is not who they claim to be, and they may have ulterior motives.
Like hackers, groomers tend to be very computer-savvy, and use a variety of methods to get close to kids. Ask yourself if your child, when approached by a stranger online, would come to you for assistance. The answer should be “yes”.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.