Protecting your child against grooming while playing games online
Online grooming is a considerable risk for children who spend a great deal of time online without their parent’s knowledge or input. In this guide, Natalie Marrison, Head of Abuse Law at Ramsdens Solicitors, offers advice to parents about how to prevent this type of grooming among children playing games online.
In the modern, technology-filled era, it is not uncommon for children to know more than their parents do when it comes to the latest gadgets and how to use them. As a parent, it can quite often feel alienating when your child spends a great deal of time using a device that you are unable to monitor.
To give this some context, last year, research carried out by musicMagpie revealed that 25% of children aged six and under already had their own smartphone, and nearly half of these spent up to 21 hours per week on their devices.
While this considerable usage is not recommended for a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, there is also the difficulty faced by most parents when it comes to what they are actually doing while spending so much time online.
What is online grooming?
Grooming takes place when an adult builds an emotional connection with a child, with the aim of gaining their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking. This can be done face to face or online, by a stranger or by someone they know, such as a family member, friend or professional. The perpetrator can be male or female and can be any age.
Online grooming specifically is when a person uses the internet to force or pressure a young person into performing a sexual act. The person who is grooming the child will very often make attempts to build their trust before talking about anything sexual. For this reason, it is very often difficult for the child to spot when they are being groomed.
Grooming and online gaming
Some people use online games to build relationships with young people, then coerce them into performing sexual activities or sending inappropriate images. As a parent, it is essential that you are aware of the ways in which this form of grooming can be carried out, in order to prevent it. Usually, the perpetrator will:
- Pay compliments to the child playing the game, or ask for tips or help with playing
- Buy the child items in the game, or offer help to complete it
- Ask personal, and often inappropriate, questions
- Ask to continue the conversation outside of the game, for instance by using a different social media platform or a messaging app, such as WhatsApp
- Try to show the child they have things in common in order to win their trust
Groomers can talk to a child while playing the game, using the platform itself, or ask to talk privately on chat sites.
Ways to ensure children are safe
Learn how to mute, report and block other users
This is more of an overall rule for all online activity. As a parent or guardian, you should learn how to mute notifications, block other users and report suspicious activity. Help your child to understand that those they meet online may not always be who they claim to be and that their intentions are not always innocent.
Educate your child on how to mute, block and report other users, and tell them to do this if someone in the game upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Also, try to encourage your child to come to you if they are worried about anything while playing online.
Check the content of the game
Many parents start and finish vetting a game to ensure it’s safe to play by looking at the age rating, however, this is rarely adequate. Always check the game out for yourself before letting your child play it. This will allow you to get a feel for the game, giving you all the information you’ll require.
Activate safety settings
Parental controls are an essential method of keeping your child safe while they’re online and can be used to block potentially harmful or upsetting content, while also controlling in-app purchases and monitoring how long your child spends online.
Downloading these controls on your child’s gaming console (which can be done by checking the instruction manual) will prevent them from seeing any harmful or upsetting material.
If you own an Apple product, the App Store allows you to turn off in-app purchases on iPads and iPhones, while both the Apple App Store and Google Play allow parents to create a pin that must be entered before products are purchased.
Depending on the device, it is also possible to switch on privacy settings on a number of games to control what information other users can see about you, and also stop other players from contacting you.
Make your child ‘share aware’
The NSPCC advises all parents to make sure their children are ‘share aware’, which means reminding them not to share any personal information, photos or videos to anyone online – and importantly, this should also apply to people they know.
If your child plays games with people they do not know, it is essential to educate them on what is appropriate to talk about and what is not. Do this by reminding them not to take the conversation off the game, for instance, on to other social networks or into a private chat.
Overall, it is essential for parents to promote an open environment in which they regularly converse with their children about their behaviour online. Take steps to agree between you what games are suitable for them to play, and chat with them about why other games may be inappropriate for them.
Most importantly, remind your child that they should always inform an adult – such as yourself or their teacher – if they experience something that upsets them when gaming. In the meantime, parents should do their best to educate themselves as much as possible when it comes to being savvy with the technology that their children are accustomed to using.
Also, read “What parents should know before giving children their first smartphone” article
Also, read “No digital devices at bedtime if children are to get enough sleep” article
Ramsdens Solicitors has recently created a free e-book for parents, which aims to equip them with the knowledge required to protect their children against online grooming.
You can download the free e-book below
Written by Natalie Marrison who is Head of Abuse Law at Ramsdens Solicitors
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