In today’s digitalised world, it is common for the younger generation to keep in touch and even make new friends online. However, it may be difficult for children to differentiate between the ‘real’ friends they know offline and the new friends they got to know online. That is why children can be at risk of falling victim to online groomers lurking on popular online platforms.
The term ‘online grooming’ refers to the act of building up a trusting and emotional relationship with a minor, usually with the purpose of sexual exploitation, gratification or abuse through the use of online platforms such as social media, messaging or gaming platforms.
According to research released in February 2020 by international thinktank DQ Institute, almost one in five Singaporean children aged eight to twelve has experienced “risky contact”, which is defined as meeting online strangers in real life or getting unwanted online contact of a sexual nature.
Since online grooming is becoming more prevalent in our society and our children are at risk of falling prey to it, it is crucial to take the necessary actions which could protect them in the long run. In this article, TOUCH Cyber Wellness provides some tips on how both parents and youths can combat online grooming.
As parents, we understand that your children are your top priority and your concerns would often revolve around their safety. Hence, try to have a talk with your children regarding online safety every once in a while. Here are some tips to help you navigate the conversation:
- Remind your children to keep personal information to themselves
Personal information such as names, home and email addresses, phone numbers or schools, should not be openly revealed online to strangers as disclosing such information puts your children at risk of being stalked both online and offline.
- Advise your children against interacting with online strangers
The people you meet online may not be who they say they are. Communicate to your children that when they go online, they should practice discernment and caution to avoid landing themselves in a compromising situation. Moreover, if you are aware that your children have plans to meet-up with their online friends in-person, explain to them the dangers of doing so, whilst advising them to seek parental permission first before agreeing to a meet-up.
- Install software filters and blockers
To play safe, try installing filters and blockers to prevent your children from being exposed to inappropriate content online. Parental controls can also help you to monitor your children’s device usage and block their use of specific sites and chatrooms which pose a higher risk of dubious online “friends”. While your children may think of you as being overprotective, gently explain to them that it reduces their risk of being exposed to online grooming and that you have their best interests at heart as their parent.
- Provide your children with a safe space where they can freely confide in you
Assure your children that if they feel uneasy, worried or threatened at any point in their online interactions, they are free to approach any trusted adult for help, without being reprimanded or judged for their actions. Such assurance will let your children see that you care for them despite having to take an authoritarian stance on what they can or cannot do online.
If you’re a teenager or adolescent, it is understandable that you would want to expand your social circle by looking for friends through online means. While it may be good widen your social circle, do remember that the online world can be dangerous and not everyone may turn out to be your friend. Here are some tips to help you navigate the online world:
- Be wary of who you interact with online
While you may have the intention of befriending someone with the same interests as you, the other party may be harbouring different motives. As such, be careful of who you talk to online and refrain from divulging any personal information such as your full name, home and email addresses, phone number and school because doing so may put you at a risk of being blackmailed.
- Choose your platform wisely
There are certain online platforms which offer protections and user verifications in place to safeguard your privacy and personal information. Do try to seek out such platforms or conduct necessary research on the platforms to protect yourself in the online world. You can also extend your research by verifying the platforms’ profiles, checking their contact information and reading online reviews made about them by other users.
- Take precautions if you intend to meet up
If you intend to meet your online friend in person, we strongly recommend that you do not meet him/her alone, or at the very least, do try to account for your whereabouts and leave your contact details with a trusted adult.
- Respond correctly if you find yourself being groomed online
If you feel that the other party is starting to request for indecent pictures or making you feel uneasy, do follow these steps:
Step 1: Cease all communication with the person immediately.
Step 2: After doing so, take screenshots of the person’s username/ID as well as the sexual messages before blocking him/her online. This evidence would be necessary should a police report need to be made.
Step 3: Report the user on the platform to take the necessary action against him/her if you find yourself being coerced by him/her to fulfill requests you are uncomfortable with.
Step 4: If you continue to feel distressed about what happened, try confiding in a trusted adult – for instance, a parent or teacher – who can step in and provide support before the situation worsens. Having screenshots of the conversations online would help the trusted adult to further assist you too.
Although it is often hard to identify an online groomer, both parents and youths can take the above precautions to protect their child and themselves from such online predators.
If you are a parent and you are unsure if your child is a victim of online grooming or if you are a youth and feel that you are being a target of an online groomer, feel free to call our TOUCHline at 1800 377 2252 (Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 6pm) to speak with a counsellor.
TOUCH Cyber Wellness (TCW) is a pioneer and leading non-profit agency that champions cyber wellness and media literacy education in Singapore. Since 2001, TCW has reached more than 320 schools and one million youths, parents, educators and counsellors through its education, advocacy and intervention efforts.
Want to know more regarding online grooming? Need to speak with an expert on your child’s mobile device usage habits? Get in touch with TOUCH Cyber Wellness here!