Today, technology and the internet are available to everyone. Because of this, terms such as sexting and cyberbullying are unfortunately, all too familiar. As parents, we need to always be aware of what is happening online to protect our children. But have you heard about this recent, little-known phenomenon?
Child grooming refers to an adult who seeks out children online to gain their trust. They'll pose as another child, with the eventual aim of requesting sexual or erotic images.
This is occurs through social networks, chats, email, mobile phones and webcams — platforms our children use every day.
Grooming begins in cyberspace, but unfortunately can transcend into the "real" world and turn your children into victims of trafficking and prostitution, child pornography or other types of child abuse.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), recruiting children for sexual purposes may take a few minutes, hours, days or months, depending on the aggressor's goals and needs as well as the reactions of children.
The UNICEF estimates that nearly 1.2 million children and adolescents are trafficked worldwide each year. This is the third most profitable crime (right after drug and arms trafficking) generating between 8 billion and 10 billion dollars a year.
These criminals use very seductive techniques. They first become the child's friend. They gather personal information they can use to manipulate the child and sell that information to others for money.
Once the child realizes who they are talking to isn't a friend, the adult will harass the child. Threats to hurt the child's family or making pictures public are used as blackmail; usually, promises to make it all stop are made, as long as the child meets them in person.
Be informed so you can prevent this from happening. Keep others (like your children, family, schoolmates, teachers) in the loop too, and recruit them to monitor computer time in the home and at school.
Remember that your children can access the internet anywhere; isolating them from technology isn't the solution. It's best to explain what child grooming is (on an age appropriate level). Tell them that they should never share any sort of personal photos or videos online.
It's important for children to know how to keep themselves safe online. Teach them not to contact strangers on social networks and tell them to never provide personal information to anyone online. To help add an extra layer of protection, monitor your child's internet usage and keep all of their privacy settings on the highest level.
It's very important that children feel like they can tell you if something like this happens to them. If the situation arises, do not blame your child. Believe what your child tells you and immediately report the situation to the local police.
We help boost our children's self-esteem by talking with them and providing moments of quality, trust, respect and love. Our children will only let us know if something is wrong if they know they are trusted and loved. We can all become more protective adults who care for and watch over the children in our lives.