How to Prevent Grooming

Your children surf the web more fluently than they walk the streets. So why not protect them from the dangers that lurk in the virtual world? Here's how to prevent grooming.
How to Prevent Grooming

Last update: 03 February, 2022

The use of the Internet and social networks is commonplace among young people and is starting at increasingly younger ages. While it brings enormous benefits, it also carries its risks. That is why today, we’re going to talk about grooming, one of the most frequent digital dangers of these times.

What is grooming?

Grooming is the sexual harassment exercised by an adult towards a minor through social networks or digital platforms. That is, through the Internet.
The person who harasses is known as a groomer and usually exerts their actions on the victims through several profiles.

You should know that grooming is considered a crime in itself and that in turn, it may be related to other major crimes. For example, human trafficking, child pornography, and homicide, among others.

How does grooming work?

This type of harassment has its own particular dynamics, as it’s carried out through a virtual medium. In general, the stalker creates a false identity or profile and uses photos or videos of other people to support this image. This way, the groomer can get closer to the child more easily.

At first, the groomer seeks to establish a close and empathetic relationship with the child or adolescent in order to get to know them and thereby create a bond of trust. To achieve this, the groomer employs different strategies: they use the same jargon, pretend to be the same age as their victim, and use the victim’s personal information published in networks to show common interests. This stage is known as the friendship phase.

Once the bond has been established, the relationship phase begins. In this case, the groomer asks the child to send photos of their body, video recordings, and even sexual material (sexual phase). In some cases, a face-to-face meeting is also requested.

When they get the material, the abuser asks their victim to continue sending photos or videos, and the blackmail begins. If the minor doesn’t agree, the groomer threatens to make the material they already have public, hurt someone in their family, or carry out any other action to frighten the minor. Finally, the minor ends up giving in to the groomer’s request, creating a vicious circle that seems to have no end.

A teenage girl looking at her phone and crying.

How to detect grooming in your children?

It’s possible to suspect a case of grooming when we notice sudden changes in the habits, behavior, or moods of our children. Below, we’ll detail these aspects:

  • One of the first ways in which a possible case of grooming is evidenced is a change in the minor’s mood.
  • They’re fearful, nervous, sad, worried, and alert.
  • They may show problems in their school performance and unexcused absences.
  • They may have difficulty falling asleep or feeding themselves.
  • Also, they may be insecure about leaving the house and avoid making social plans.
  • They hide or conceal their electronic devices when they use them.
  • Sometimes, they show physical or psychosomatic symptoms, such as aches, pains, and vomiting.
  • They often change their body language: They avoid eye contact, stand with slumped shoulders, or feel nervous around other people.

How to prevent grooming

The way we approach the care of our children changes over time, and as they grow older, they acquire more independence and autonomy. It may no longer be necessary to watch over them 24 hours a day, but this doesn’t mean that we should stop protecting them from other risks or dangers. So, what we must change is the way we face and deal with issues related to their safety.

Don’t invade their privacy, but keep track of what they do

Adolescence is an age in which two particular situations coincide. On the one hand, the exposure of minors on social networks increases and they have more access to the world. But on the other hand, they go through a process of individuation and differentiation (necessary for the construction of identity) that requires a certain amount of privacy.

In this sense, it’s very important to inquire about their lives without invading their privacy. The best thing to do is to talk to them and find out how they surf the internet, what they like to do, and what they do when they connect.

Teach them to make good use of the Internet

Some ideas that should be made clear are those of anonymity and false identity. That is to say, to make it clear to children that many people surf the net with fictitious profiles. This is especially important to explain to teenagers, as the notion of a “digital footprint” is a crucial concept for their lives. This refers to the trace left by all the material uploaded to the web, which doesn’t disappear completely even if it’s deleted.

A family of four sitting at a restaurant, all using their phones.

Review your own social networking practices

Today, sharenting is very common, which is the disclosure by adults of their children’s photos or videos, without their consent or the protection of their privacy.

For example, sharing a photo of a child in school uniform does much more than show off your excitement about their first or last day of school. It provides specific information about your child’s whereabouts and makes it accessible to other people.

Use parental control tools at home

Another possibility to prevent harassment on networks is to install parental controls on home devices and applications accessed by minors.

From the moment children or adolescents start having social networks, they should be taught how to configure the privacy of their devices and platforms. Even if they’re interested in having thousands of followers, you need to reinforce the idea that not all people who add us as friends are real and that it’s never a good idea to accept strangers.

Other good practices to prevent grooming

Here are more possible actions to prevent grooming:

  • As we commented above, some groomers are good hacks. That’s why you shouldn’t choose obvious passwords, such as your birthday or pet’s name. You can think of simple passwords, but combining letters and symbols. It’s also not a good idea to use the same password for all accounts.
  • In the case of children, it’s best for parents to know the passwords of all their accounts. In the case of teenagers, you shouldn’t invade their privacy, but advise them not to share their passwords with anyone. Not even with their friends or with their partners.
  • In online games, use pseudonyms and never give full real data.
  • Just as in real life, parents should keep track of their children in the virtual world. There must be an active presence to know the sites they visit and set clear rules about them.
  • Teach them to be wary of strange messages received on the internet or links that take us from one site to another.
  • The generational digital gap shouldn’t be an impediment to knowing what children do on the net. It’s important to be informed and, in any case, to ask them yourself.
  • When a news item about grooming appears in the media, you can take the opportunity to address or reinforce the issue.

What to do when faced with a case of grooming

These are some of the measures that are recommended when faced with a case of grooming:

  • First of all, you need to support the child. You must create a climate of trust and security. In general, children often feel a lot of shame and guilt, especially teenagers. It’s best to accompany them in the expression of their emotions and help them become aware that it’s not their fault, but rather the fault of the bully who commits the crime.
  • In order to file a complaint, you need to know the facts. In any case, you should avoid interrogation-type questions and respect your children’s time.
  • The groomer‘s profile on social networks shouldn’t be reported, as it may be deleted and this makes it difficult to trace the groomer later on. This will be done at a later time when the police authorities indicate it.
  • Clean” the computer: Some groomers are skilled hackers, so you need to run an antivirus program and change the passwords of the accounts and the access to all sensitive information.
  • All material exchanged between the groomer and the child should be downloaded.
  • Before making the report, you should discuss it with the child concerned. Don’t make the decision without first telling them, listen to what they think and feel, and alleviate their concerns or fears.
A mother talking with her teenage daughter about grooming.

Rather than denying technology, encourage proper use

The use of the Internet is, for many parents, a real concern. However, it’s not a question of demonizing this tool, as it has proven to have many virtues, especially during the pandemic. What we need to do is to learn how to make good use of it and to teach how to use it safely.

In this sense, protecting minors doesn’t mean isolating kids from the virtual world, but accompanying them at all times. From the knowledge of the applications they download and visit, to establishing times and schedules of use. And in the case of younger children, being with them when they surf.

So, rather than denying technology, it’s important to provide the necessary resources and tools so that our children can manage in the world they live in.

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  • Grooming, guía práctica para adultos. Ministerio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos. Presidencia de la Nación Argentina.
  • Santisteban, Patricia de, & Gámez-Guadix, Manuel. (2017). Estrategias de persuasión en grooming online de menores: un análisis cualitativo con agresores en prisión. Psychosocial Intervention26(3), 139-146. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psi.2017.02.001

The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.