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What you need to know about online grooming

Many parents worry that their child could be groomed online. Here’s what you need to know to help protect them

What is online grooming?

Grooming is a gradual process, not a one-off event.

Online, it may involve the abuser posing as another child or teenager, and establishing a relationship with your son or daughter via social media, in a chat room or other online space. They may then befriend them and use this friendship, which feels very real to the child, to try to manipulate them into sexual activity, either online or in real life.

The abuser can make the child think they share interests or experiences based on things they’ve revealed as they’ve chatted online, such as the music they like or the games they play. Your child may also have revealed issues in their real life that could make them vulnerable to an online ‘friend’ who ‘gets them,’ such as problems with friends or family, or troubles at school.

Watch CEOP’s film about grooming

Signs your child may be being groomed

Some of the outward signs children and young people show when they’re being groomed can be explained away as normal behaviour for someone going through puberty. Withdrawing from family time, becoming isolated or emotional, for example, are things that many teenagers do.

But you know your child, and if their actions seem out of character or if they’re actively pushing you, their friends and family away, it could be a sign that something’s not right, so talk to them to find out what’s wrong. You can read our tips on how to start a difficult conversation with your child here.

Signs for parents that your child may be being groomed online

  • A sudden increase in your child’s internet use that feels out of character or unhealthy, for example, if they start missing out on meeting up with real-life friends to spend time talking to online ones.
  • Being private or secretive about what they’re doing online, changing the subject or refusing to say when asked directly.
  • Becoming withdrawn or upset, particularly after going online.
  • The sudden, unexplained appearance of new possessions, like trainers or a mobile phone, and they won’t say where they came from, or their explanation doesn’t ring true.

Signs for young people that your online friend may be grooming you

Tell your child to be wary of an online friend who:

…wants you to keep your relationship secret.

…you’ve never met in real life who suggests you take your chat into a private, unmoderated online space, such as Skype or WhatsApp’s live video chat feature.

…sends you a new mobile or tablet to talk to them on, or encourages you to buy one, so your family can’t trace your conversations.

…starts badmouthing your parents or other friends, encourages you not to confide in them, and positions themselves as the only friend who really understands you.

…you’ve never had a live video chat with and who tries to persuade you to meet up in real life. They may come up with seemingly plausible reasons why they can’t show their face on camera, such as technical difficulties (slow broadband speed or a broken web camera, for example) or not enough data on their phone, but the real reason could be because they’re an adult who’s been using a fake profile. 

…constantly tries to bring conversations back to sex or makes regular sexual comments in the middle of chats. They may ask you about your sexual experiences, talk about their own, or refer to their sexual organs to see how you react. They may also ask for photos or videos of you naked, semi-naked or doing something sexual when they know you’re underage. 

Tips for parents

  • Talk to your child about the risks of their online friends not being who they say they are (a process often called catfishing) by looking at and discussing some of the resources on grooming on Parent Info and CEOP’s Thinkuknow site together.

  • If your child wants to meet up with someone they've only ever chatted to online, they should take you, or another adult you trust, with them the first time. Any objections to having an adult present at the first meet up could be a red flag that their online friend isn’t who they say they are.

  • If your child does arrange to live video chat with someone and they feel uncomfortable at the way the conversation is going or at the actions of the other person, they should end it immediately and talk to someone they trust, such as you, a teacher or older sibling, about what happened. They can advise them on whether to report the contact to NCA-CEOP or the social platform the chat occurred on.

  • Make sure your child is aware that sometimes groomers are completely upfront. If their profile username suggests that they are older or have an interest in young people then they are most likely not joking or exaggerating.

  • If your child has been groomed, let them know that you do not blame them. Abusers are responsible for what they do to children and never the child, no matter what has happened.

  • Victims and families can often feel powerless after abuse. Talking about what happened, reporting them and working out together what you can do next will help all of you feel like you’re taking control back from the abuser.

Further reading

What is sexual grooming: advice from CEOP

Knowing the signs of child sexual exploitation

Should I make a report to CEOP?

Understanding the dynamics of catfishing

Worried your child is being groomed?

If you think your child is in imminent danger of meeting up with someone who’s been grooming them online, call 999 immediately. For all other concerns, contact CEOP who will guide you on what to do next.

Report to CEOP

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.

Updated: January 2019

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