At Cactus Foundation we strongly believe that it is parents’ responsibility to keep their children safe. We cannot dump the weight on children of being safe from adults mostly (in some cases peers), it has to be the responsibility of the adults.
We also believe with right intent and awareness, adults can do that, adults and parents can keep their children safe from being groomed online and eventually from online child sexual abuse.
If you haven't already, we highly recommend reading the first and the second part of this article How Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse Groom Children Online
Here are some Ways of protecting your child from online grooming could be:
A - Establish a connection with your child
The ultimate safety measure against cyber safety threats is being connected to your child, listening to them and encouraging open communication with them. No amount of technical safety amounts to how safe your child can be when you are the ultimate person in their life. If they will feel connected to you, heard by you and safe with you, they will not feel the need to interact with a stranger on the internet.
B - Have a conversation with your child about online grooming
Having a conversation with your child about how there are people out there who would reach out to them in a friendly and loving way but will be having bad intentions to exploit them. Talk to your child about how they should not interact with strangers online, establish rules with them about who they can interact with on the internet and what information they can and cannot share online.
C - Talk to them about what is safe and unsafe, body safety and body ownership
Perpetrators who groom children online are constantly trying to desensitize children into following and fulfilling their requests, sharing their personal details, intimate pictures and having conversations that are sexual in nature. Perpetrators are constantly claiming to your child that doing all of this is okay, normal and safe. So as parents you can have a first mover advantage by talking to your children and making sure your children understand their boundaries, what they can and cannot share with strangers online, what are safe and unsafe requests and behaviors other people can show and what is their private information that should remain to themselves. Have these conversations with your children as soon as possible and before anybody else on the internet tells them otherwise.
D - Use of Privacy settings
You need to spend time with your child looking at the privacy settings that can benefit their online safety. It’s always best to assume that default settings are public and should be changed accordingly.
E - Reviewing apps, site, and games they use
You would probably be using social networks yourself, but you need to know about new ones that your child is using or wants to use.
You need to learn them yourself, use them and set up your own account so you can experience what your child might go through while using those apps. You are not new to those experiences and can help your child with expertise to tackle if they face similar problems. There are also many child-friendly social networks they could use while they get ready for the ones like that of Snapchat and Instagram.
F - It’s also important to be aware of activities your child indulge in online.
Live streaming, YouTube shorts, Instagram reels, video games and social media sites all have different forms of communication. Have conversations about their digital use to stay informed.
G - Know who their friends are
Talk to your child about who their online friends are and by being cautious about what they share with people online. Remind them that even though people they’ve met online might feel like friends they may not be who they say they are.
H - Build space for children to open up
Teach the child to trust their guts and if something goes wrong or makes your child worried or uncomfortable online their best course of action is always to talk to an adult they trust.
I - Using apps that blocks inappropriate content
There is a range of new apps and software that block, filter and monitor your child's online behavior. You’ll need to decide as a family whether this is the right approach for you, but you will have to take into consideration your child’s age and maturity, and their need for privacy.
J - Understanding the gaming world
In some games like Minecraft or Roblox people deliberately try to intimidate other players. In multi-player games where gamers talk to one another – they might use abusive language, harassment and there have been instances of grooming. It’s vital therefore that your child knows how to report abuse and talks to you if something is causing them concern.
“Stranger is a danger” is not just when you are meeting strangers in person. But the same applies even in the online world. Whatever rules parents and guardians impose on their children for meeting strangers in person should apply just as equally to meeting strangers on the internet.
To live in a world where we don’t allow our children to access the Internet is not realistic, especially now in today's times where everything happens online. It is imperative, then, as parents and guardians that we instill best practices for our children to remain safe online as they navigate cyberspace, have some potentially uncomfortable conversations, and keep them safe from online exploitation
Online sexual abuse and online grooming is a big problem today that can be prevented to a great extend by building a connection with your child and by always be there to listen to them and provide to their emotional needs just like you provide for their basic and advanced needs like food, water, shelter, education and entertainment. We at Cactus foundation highly endorse parents taking the responsibility of keeping children safe and the key to the same is to have a strong bond with them, listening to them at all times, and having conversations with them about possible cyber threats they can come across and how to stay safe.