A parents’ guide to online predators

Our experts' guide to identifying grooming behaviors and how to safeguard kids from online predators.

What's the risk?

‘Grooming’ is how sexual predators pursue people (usually children) through a telecommunications service or device. The speed of easily accessible personal information and lack of security and supervision when it comes to children’s online activities are two of the main factors that help them commit these acts against vulnerable children.

Grooming happens easily, and doesn’t necessarily discriminate. ‘Good kids’ can innocently fall victim to online predators because of their developmental level (lack of critical thinking ability) and innocent willingness to trust others who seem like fun or exciting new friends.

What age is most vulnerable?

Children and teens of all ages are vulnerable to online predators. Increased time alone and more frequent access to and use of internet-enabled apps and games can increase vulnerability to online predators.

It is essential that parents ensure their children and teenagers access age-appropriate platforms and that children are consistently supervised when playing online games or participating in online platforms. Furthermore, teenagers should not be left to their own devices (so to speak!). Talking to teens about safe online communication is essential to keeping them safe from online threats and manipulative strangers.

How does it happen?

The risk of online grooming increases if your child does any of the following:

  • Posts personal details like their full name or school on a social networking site without using the privacy controls, as this means their information is accessible to those who could use it to develop an inappropriate relationship with them.
  • Accepts contacts or ‘friend’ requests from people they don’t know as this allows strangers to access their personal information.
  • Responds to anonymous users on apps or websites.
  • Visits sites targeted towards adults, such as some social media, dating, online chat, or gaming sites, as this increases the likelihood of them being contacted by older teens or adults for sexual purposes.
  • Posts sexualized photos and messages or uses a sexually suggestive or provocative screen name. Children may see this as being mature or funny, but it may instead attract dangerous people.

 

Straight from the experts

Here are our three top insights direct from ySafe's leading cyber safety experts.

Yasmin London

Former Police Officer

01

Keep devices and gaming consoles out of bedrooms

Online predators rely on situations where they can engage in conversations with children without adults stepping in. Aside from other issues such as the impact on sleep due to reduced impulse control, devices in bedrooms enable the proverbial door to be shut on chats and potentially allows a stranger private time with your child. Predators are sophisticated in the ways they can manipulate unsuspecting children without parental supervision and involvement.

Hot Tip – If your child likes gaming, keep headphones away from game time for as long as possible. Parents need to hear what is being said, and more importantly, who is speaking to their child!

02

Ensure your child’s real-world relationships are always stronger than their online ones

Problems occur when a vulnerable child’s online relationships start to become stronger than those in their real world. Online predators actively prey on susceptible children or teens. They may encourage them to show reduced interest in their peers or family and manipulate them to become more connected with them instead. Be sure to keep home relationships strong and compassionate. While being open to the online world and its support, parents should know who their kids are investing time with and why. It always pays to ensure home is truly where their heart is.

03

Be aware of all online chat functions

One of the most significant risk areas–commonly often overlooked by parents–is the presence of online or in-game chat or open social media profiles that allow strangers to contact children directly. Even the most innocent-looking games like Minecraft connect kids straight into a melting pot of people they don’t know.
If you have younger children, it is helpful to discuss the following three rules of engagement for anyone they come into contact with online:

  1. They must know the person’s first and last name.
  2. They must know the person in real life.
  3. Their parents must know the person and give their consent.

If they can’t answer YES to those three questions, they either need to work on answering them with their parent’s help or disengage completely.

What can parents do about it?

If you'd like to safeguard your child through education, here are the steps we recommend you take:

01.
Tell your child they can come to you about anything, even if something goes wrong

It's a hard but incredibly important step to remain calm if your child is involved in an adverse incident. It helps to explain that even adults get tricked into doing things they regret.

Do your best to minimize anger or judgment, as it's crucial your child feels they can come to you for help without being punished or criticized–this includes resisting the urge to remove access to devices and platforms because of a mistake.

02.
Help your child protect their privacy by controlling personal information and privacy settings

Make sure your child knows how to use their privacy settings on social media platforms and games and that they know how to restrict their online information.

Explain that they should not send photographs of themselves that clearly show their identity (including images of school or sports team uniforms). Help them understand and identify information that can be conveyed in images and videos, without saying a word.

It is also important to turn off location services.

Ask them only to use their first name or a fictitious username to identify themselves in online chat and social media, and ensure they know never to disclose their phone number, address, or school.

Ask younger children not to speak to anyone they don’t know in real life and ensure they know not to post or text images or videos without your permission.

03.
Get involved in your child’s online life. Ask them regularly about their online friends, who they are, and how they know them

Refer to the three golden rule questions and ask your child if they can answer ‘yes’ to all three when you do a dip sample of their online friends. If they can’t, you need to be ready to have an open discussion about the rules, reasons, and consequences.

04.
Test your child on their knowledge when it comes to managing unwanted contact (strategies for blocking and reporting)

There are a multitude of places where children (and parents) can report suspicious or inappropriate behavior. It is incredibly important that you and your child take steps to report people who do the wrong thing and prevent harm from occurring to not only your child but others who may be at risk. Just remember to screenshot and save the evidence as well!

Further information

Reporting Incidents

How to report online safety issues.

How to set up a cyber safe home

Our simple ABC model is a practical and effective way to create a safe online environment for your family.

App & game reviews

Age-appropriate app reviews and recommendations from the experts.