Unwanted contact and grooming

During this time, children are likely to be learning, playing and socialising online —which can be a great way to build friendships and stay connected.

With more people engaging online, it is even more important to ensure all the conversations they have are safe, healthy or wanted. Parents and carers need to keep an eye out for unwanted contact and know how to respond.

Unwanted contact is any online communication that makes your child feel uncomfortable or unsafe, even if they initially welcomed the contact. It can come from a stranger, an online ‘friend’ or even someone they actually know. At worst, it can involve ‘grooming’— building a relationship with the child to sexually abuse them.

How can I minimise the risks to my child?

  • Make their accounts private — suggest that your child makes their social media accounts private or revises their privacy settings regularly.
  • Delete contacts they don’t talk to —ask them to go through all the people who follow, or are friends with them, on social media and check that they actually know them.
  • Report and block — if your child receives any unwanted contact from either someone they know or a stranger, encourage them to report and block the person.
  • Delete requests from strangers —encourage your child to delete friend or follow requests from people they don’t know.

What else can I do to protect my child?

  • Stay involved in your child’s digital world  — keep up-to-date with the websites, apps and online chat services they are using, and explore them together.
  • Build an open trusting relationship —keep communication open and calm so they know they can come to you when someone is asking them to do something that does not feel right.
  • Help your child to protect their privacy — encourage your child to use their privacy settings on social media sites to restrict their online information to known friends only.
  • Teach your child to be alert to signs of inappropriate contact — help them recognise signs that an online ‘friend’ may be trying to develop an inappropriate relationship, such as asking:
    • lots of questions about personal information soon after meeting online
    • if they would like to meet in person
    • which room their computer is in
    • for favours and doing things in return(abusers often use promises and gifts to gain trust).
  • Establish safety guidelines for meeting online ‘friends’— explain that it is safest to keep online ‘friends’ online. If they do want to meet someone face to-face once health restrictions are removed, they should discuss it with you first. Let them know they should be accompanied by you or another trusted adult.
  • What to do if something goes wrong —talk to them without being judgemental or angry and make them feel like they can come to you with anything, without fear of being punished or criticised. Find out what happened and act to protect your child.
  • Call the police if you think your child isat risk of being groomed or their physical safety is at risk. Police often have hotlines where you can report abuse or online grooming — search online for services in your area.
  • Get help and support for your child an online or telephone counselling and support service.