Most of the time, it starts with the most normal-sounding introduction - frequently used with dozens of girls simultaneously. Make sure your daughter isn’t one of them. Here are the lines, and the signs, to watch out for.
“Hey, sorry it’s so random lol but we got friends in common. Hope it’s ok to be friends.”
That one was used by a single offender on no fewer than 119 children.
In another case, a 41-year-old posed as a 20-year-old to start 475 conversations with under-age targets using lines as simple as “hey,” “hey you,” “hey beautiful,” and “hey babe.”
We hear a lot about predators like these. But perhaps most dangerous of all the creepers who really are in their 20s - and target younger teens to groom for nudes and sexually charged conversation.
The fact is, to insecure and inexperienced young girls, compliments from a slightly older male can be a powerful draw.
One young woman, now aged 24, explained to Walesonline.co.uk how the manipulation worked on her - at the vulnerable age of 14.
To insecure and inexperienced young girls, compliments from a slightly older male can be a powerful draw.
“I hadn’t had any attention from boys before,” she recalled. “Boys my age were bullying me and taking the mick out of me and I remember thinking ‘these older guys fancy me, they think I’m pretty.
“At first, I was sent messages like ‘Hey, how are you?' and 'You know some of my mates' and 'Are you in school?.' It seemed like completely normal conversation, so I rolled with it.”
But gradually, week by week, the messages became increasingly sexually charged.
“It went from ‘You’re very pretty’ and ‘That picture you posted is very nice’ to commenting on my figure and making sexual comments and asking me for pictures. It was so subtle; that’s why it is so easy for an online chat to slip into being so wrong.”
And the worst part? Confiding in her parents was the last thing on her mind.
“I didn’t feel like I could speak to adults about it because I thought I’d get into trouble for talking about sex with a guy.”
Because the men she was messaging were good-looking guys in their 20s, she never thought of it as “grooming.”
We tend to think of online predators as old men posing as younger guys. But younger guys target young girls for sex and/or sexual content too - and may do so with shocking ease.
“It’s a weird assumption about online grooming: people associate it with a 60-year-old man behind a computer, talking to young girls. That’s what you often see on campaign ads - videos of an old actor typing a message to a young girl, paired with warnings.”
But the truth is, girls don’t always realise they are being groomed until much later. Instead, they are likely to think “I have an older boyfriend and it’s cool.”
Spot the signs of grooming
Detectives and child safety experts advise parents to be on the alert for:
Keep in mind that some of these behaviours simply indicate that your teen is a member in good standing of iGen - especially that last one ;).
The reality is, there are no simple formulas for the problem of online grooming - one of so many digital risks that has boomed during the pandemic, as kids’ screen-time has ballooned and parents’ attention has fragmented.
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