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Why your child won’t tell you if they’re being groomed online

Did you know that more than half of primary school children have been sent inappropriate images or witnessed inappropriate behaviour online but not a single one of them has told, or will tell, their parents?

In this blog I will share with you why that is and what we as parents can do about it. I will also tell you of some of the apps we should be very wary of and share some of the resources available to help us parents help our children in this brave new digital age. 

HERE’S THE THING

Children don’t tell their parents for the simple reason that they fear losing their devices and not being allowed back on the internet.

‘Sanctions sprout secrets’ as a child eloquently put it. But let’s also remember that ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ and that this dilemma has always faced parents in one way or another.

I certainly didn’t ever tell my parents anything that risked them tightening what I considered already very strict rules, and I also didn’t tell them anything that might have caused them to ‘go official’ and possibly embarrass me. 

HOW DO WE GET THE BALANCE RIGHT?

  • We need to let our children know that they can come to us if they feel someone is being inappropriate without fearing that they will pay the price in loss of access to the internet or their devices.
  • We need to inform them of the dangers online, which means knowing the dangers, talking about staying safe online and exploring the online world together
  • We need to minimise risk by being on top of settings and controls and agree on rules of what’s okay and what’s not.
  • We need to empower our children to tell someone else if they can’t tell us.
  • We need to encourage them to keep an eye out for their friends and know where to turn for help for a friend.

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION

Things move quickly in the world of technology, so if you’re not sure which apps you should be wary of, this should help you get started:

Yubo which was previously known as Yellow, is a free-to-download mobile phone app, and describes itself as “a social app to meet new friends and have fun with them”.

Just like adult dating app Tinder, Yubo allows user to connect with others based on their location.

Users can swipe left or right to accept or decline an invitation to chat. If there’s a match, they can exchange messages, photos and video chats with them and even add them as a friend on Snapchat or follow them on Instagram. Even if they don’t know each other.

What’s more, the app also syncs with Snapchat, meaning users can livestream themselves to anyone watching.

Yubo is being exploited by sex offenders to contact children as young as 10 and there is increasing concern about the lack of safety features on the app.

Police in several areas of the UK have alerted schools to concerns they have over child safety on the app, while the NSPCC has also shared a warning.

Despite being required to be over 13 to register and use Yubo, there is no way to verify your age when you sign up. This means a child below this age can return to the registration page and input a false age.

Sarahah is an App that allows anonymous comments to be sent to others and has led to a suicide in the past. It is no longer available in the App Store or Google Play after a Change.org petition was launched by a concerned mother, but Ask fm is similar in nature and both have been platforms for cyberbullying. Google ‘Apps like Sarahah’ to see similar Apps available and check them out thoroughly.

MSP Movie Star Planet lets you create a virtual character and then have a relationship with another character. It allows gifts to be given and images to be exchanged and is wide open to abuse by paedophiles.

Roblox  allows you to present yourself as an online Lego character and make online friends. However, it allows the character to witness sexual acts, played out by the characters, and is being used by paedophiles who use a ‘voice changer’ App to change their voice to sound like a child’s.

Live.me is very popular and links to Twitch (Twitch is for gamers and allows their image to be seen in real time). Live.me allows a user to post themselves live and then receive presents of a monetary value. However, the child cannot access the money as they are too young to hold a Paypal account. Therefore, the perpetrator will offer to open a Paypal account and then expect something in exchange.

Snapchat Most of us are aware of this one and the fact that texts and images disappear after a few seconds. However, there is now a method of recording the snapchat images without the sender being aware. Using another device, Snapchat is opened up on quick time which then records the image without the sender being aware. This allows the recipient to then send the image to whomever they like. School students have been widely reported to be doing this.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO BRING UP A CHILD

Even if you have good and open communication in your family and you feel your child can come to you with any concern they might have about suspect behaviour on their social media, they might still be more likely to tell a friend.

Especially if they feel embarrassed about their own behaviour. Which they are very likely to feel if they have been subjected to the beginnings of the grooming cycle.

They might also feel embarrassed if banter has suddenly become bullying and no longer funny and they are not sure how to extricate themselves.

So it is very important to let ALL our children know how they can get help. It starts with you telling your child that they can come to you but that if they don’t want to tell you, you won’t mind and here is what to do instead:

  • Tell a teacher or other member of staff at their school
  • Agree together on who would be a good trusted adult in the family or friend circle to tell and make sure that person knows what to do
  • Report it directly to https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/
  • Have the conversation about what to do if a friend confides in them

Here are two excellent websites with a wealth of information and advice:

https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk

https://www.nspcc.org.uk

If you are technically challenged and need help with setting up parental controls or privacy settings you can call the NSPCC free on 0808 800 5002 

OVER TO YOU

I would love to hear from you about your experiences around this challenge. Do you have advice or suggestions on how you deal with it in your family? Are you ‘party’ to their ‘WhatsApps’ and au fait with the security settings on your devices? Is your child safe online and equipped with the knowledge to discern what they are really being asked to do?

PS: PASS IT ON

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