Most people your child meets on the Internet will be harmless, but there’s still danger in making friends online. Child predators use the Internet to meet children and form relationships with them, the end result of which is to molest or abuse them in the future. This process is known as “grooming,” and it’s vital that you recognize grooming while it’s happening, so you can stop it before it goes too far.
Predators groom children by lending a listening ear, making them feel special, treating them “like a grown up,” introducing sexual speech or pornography to make such acts seem more acceptable, encouraging secrets, and introducing them to other adult behaviors like drinking and doing drugs.
Sexual grooming by an online predator is surprisingly hard to notice, and children may be committed to protecting their secret relationship with their “new friend.” Some warning signs that your child may be being groomed by an online pedophile are:
- Secrecy, especially about Internet activity
- Unexplained appearance of new gifts – especially cell phones, jewelry, or expensive items
- Appearance of pornography, especially child pornography, on their phone or computer
- Strange names in their social networking “friends list”
- Suspicious new contact information in their cell phone
- Edgy new behavior, dress, language, makeup, or appearance
- Skipping school
- New risky behavior (drugs, smoking, alcohol, etc)
- Sudden interest in or knowledge of sexual or age-inappropriate topics
- Loss of interest in real-life friends or distance from family
- Changes in mood, especially after being online
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell these grooming warning signs from typical teen behavior. But if several are present at once and the behaviors have not previously been problems, there is most likely something besides normal adolescent turbulence going on.