It’s a challenging, terrifying and grisly subject, but with online technology now being the primary source of entertainment in households across the region, ‘online grooming’ is something that has the potential to makes its way into the lounge room of many homes.
Without adequate barriers in place, the anonymity of the digital world opens the door for predators to attempt contact with children through a variety of ways.
As the Office of the eSafety Comissioner advises:
“If your child spends time online, there is a chance they might meet someone who could make them feel uncomfortable. Unwanted contact is any type of online communication that your child finds unpleasant or confronting.”
Communication is key
Because grooming can happen over a long period of time, parents may not recognise the signs something is happening – particularly if one of the strategies being used by the predator is to warn the child not to tell anyone about the communication.
Therefore, though it’s a difficult subject, talking and keeping communication channels open between you and your child is a key way to protect them. Chat about examples and how you would react, and equip kids to know the signs.
Ways they are at risk include:
- Posting provocative photographs and messages.
- Using a provocative screen name that might pique interest of online predators.
- Posting personal information.
- Having privacy settings to ‘public’ rather than ‘friends only’.
- Accepting friend requests from someone they don’t know in the real world.
- Using sites designed for young people or adults.
To minimise your child’s vulnerability, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner advises to encourage your child to:
- Only use a nickname to identify themselves.
- Never share their personal details such as phone number, school or address.
- Never send photographs of themselves.
- Never agree to meet someone they have met online in person without your permission and never without a trusted adult supervision.
- Encourage them to delete any friends or follow requests they don’t know.
- Raise any concerns they may have with you or another trusted adult.
If they have already done something online you don’t approve of – don’t be angry. Instead, reassure them that coming to you is always the right thing to do. Talk through the situation with them and help them find a solution. If it something serious, gather evidence such as screenshots, show them how to block any contacts and report to the appropriate authorities if necessary.
Signs for children to watch out for
- ‘Let’s go private’: Any time someone they are chatting with suggests leaving the public chatroom and moving to a private chat, instant messaging or texting.
- ‘What’s your favourite colour’: Someone asking for any form of personal information, such as where you go to school, what is your real name, what you like, how old you are. Though this might feel like someone is just being friendly to the child, a predator chats in this way to form a relationship until the child feels comfortable sharing more personal information.
- ‘Where are you in the house?’: Often a question asked to see if a child’s parents are nearby and can see the child’s screen.
- ‘You sound so pretty/nice’: Flattery is often used by predators to make you feel special and wanted. If someone is paying a lot of compliments and attention online, be aware it’s not necessarily genuine.
What you can do
- Stay engaged in your child’s online world. Ask questions and be aware of who they socialise with online.
- Stay up to date with the latest apps and chat services kids are using.
- Rather than always ‘checking up’ on their activity, keep communication channels open. Build an open relationship of trust, teach them to understand and equip them to avoid the potential dangers online.
iPads and iPhones come equipped with some very effective filtering options in place. Head to the Parental Controls section to set up.
Another option is using a third-party filtering software. Two of the most common in Australia are:
Yomojo FamilyEye: A parental control solution that manages a child’s activities straight from your own mobile. Set the rules on which websites your children can access and keep them away from inappropriate internet content. Block apps and games you don’t want to be running on your kids’ devices. Control the camera feature on your child’s device. Track their whereabouts and receive notifications when your child leaves or enters a safe area.
Family Zone: Operated through a desktop portal, you can manage screen time, set routines for study, play and sleep, keep content child-friendly and remove adult content for safe searching. You can also restrict social media, and manage social apps and in-app purchasing. This system also extends to the home’s network using their Family Zone Box.