Some of the potential dangers online are obvious to you and your child. For example, as unpleasant as bullying might be, cyber bullies reveal themselves to be people your child will want to avoid if possible. But there are also online predators who may seem to your child to be trustworthy people – friends, or even romantic interests. These predators use a process called grooming to gain your child’s trust.
What Is Grooming?
“Grooming” is a term that refers to the process of building an emotional connection with a child. Predators use grooming to get close to children and teens. The predator then exploits this connection, usually for the purposes of sexual abuse, exploitation, or trafficking.
Think of grooming as a more sophisticated equivalent of a stranger offering candy to a child. The idea is to convince the child to drop their defenses and their natural distrust of strangers. A child who has been groomed may not see the predator as a stranger at all, even if they’ve never met face-to-face. Because the child feels connected with the predator on that emotional level, they fail to use caution when communicating with or meeting the person doing the grooming.
What Does Grooming Entail?
Groomers often lie to their targets in order to establish some common ground. For example, an adult may pretend to be the same age as your child – or they may at least pretend to be nearer to your child’s age than they actually are. They may also feign an interest in things that your child is interested in. For example, children may meet these predators on sites dedicated to a certain fan community or activity. But what the groomer is really interested in is finding vulnerable children.
Grooming can take many different forms. Predators are often good at identifying children who feel isolated, misunderstood, or angry. Grooming them can be as simple as giving them attention, validating their feelings, and offering advice or sympathy. In other cases, groomers may give the child gifts, money, drugs or alcohol, or other things.
What Does Grooming Look Like?
Children who are being groomed may become more secretive and more isolated from family and real-life friends. The groomer will often manipulate them into keeping the relationship a secret.
Some children who are being groomed may have money they can’t explain, or new items, like a cell phone, that you know they didn’t buy and you didn’t buy for them. They may spend excessive amounts of time online, act out sexually, or become emotionally volatile.
Because children often don’t recognize grooming for what it is, it’s up to parents to be vigilant. You need to know if your child is talking to strangers online, particularly strangers who might be asking inappropriate questions, encouraging risky behavior, or who show signs that they may not be who they claim to be. Parental monitoring software allows you to keep an eye on your children and who they interact with online.
To find out how parental monitoring software can help you protect your child, get our free trial.