How do you know which young people are at risk when they’re online? What stops a predator from having access to your kid, but doesn’t prevent somebody trying to groom the kids next door? The internet being so accessible has fueled the fire of online predators and paedophiles for two reasons; because child pornography is far easier to access, but also because children themselves are far easier to access. The truth is, of course, that children with regular access to the internet are most at risk, especially if that access is private or unsupervised. Unfortunately, we can’t lock our kids in a room with no access to the internet, so the only option is to educate your children and make them aware of the risks.
Once a predator has already made contact with a child online and is speaking to them regularly, they can quite easily paint themselves as somebody the child would love to be friends with, date, or otherwise have some kind of social connection with. It’s also fairly simple for online predators to piece together quite an accurate profile of a given child, by using bits of information that are invariably available online – a show they went to, restaurant they ate at, maybe a photo where school uniform is visible or the mention of a sports tournament or school charity drive.
Of course, your children have to understand the risks associated with online grooming. It’s important that they don’t share information that could identify them easily online. Make sure they know that just because they might have mutual friends with someone, it doesn’t mean that their friends know them in real life. Pictures and videos are not good proof either, as these can easily be stolen online without the real person’s permission. Let them know that if anyone pressures them into sending sexualised videos or photos, they need to tell an adult, even if they are being threatened.
If you think that your child has been contacted inappropriately, don’t confront the person you suspect of being an online predator. Instead, report the individual to the social media site and the authorities. Keep screenshots of all interactions to back yourself up.