How to spot if your child is being groomed and how to keep them safe online

Cases such as the murder of Breck Bednar back in 2014 highlighted the importance of keeping children safe online but the latest figures on social media grooming shows more needs to be done.

Around 200,000 young people are being groomed on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, the NSPCC has warned - which is calling for tech companies to do what they can to help stop the problem.

The social media giants say they are committed to combating online grooming but what can parents do to cut the risk to their child? Here is advice from the NSPCC.

- What is grooming?

Breck Bednar (left) was groomed online by Lewis Daynes. Credit: Essex Police

Grooming is when someone builds up a relationship - often with a child or vulnerable adult - in order to manipulate, abuse, or exploit them.

Anyone could be a groomer but those who do so online may take care to conceal their identity by sending fake photographs, often surreptitiously appearing as a child.

A groomer could be targeting someone for a wide range of reasons, including to sexually abuse, traffic, exploit, or even, as was the case with Lewis Daynes and Breck Bednar, to murder.

- How to spot if your child is being groomed

The NSPCC says there are several things you can look out for to spot if your child is being groomed. Credit: PA

Grooming can be very difficult for parents to spot and the signs can be hidden more easily, depending on the temperament of your child and his or her age.

If an older child is being groomed, their attempts to hide their communications could easily be viewed as typical teenage behaviour.

Despite this, the NSPCC says there are several things you can look out for in your child's behaviour:

  • They spend much more or much less time online than usual

  • They appear upset, distant or angry after being online

  • They act secretive about who they're communicating with online

  • They have an older boyfriend or girlfriend online

  • They have an understanding of sex that isn't appropriate for their age

  • They have a high number of new phone numbers, texts or email addresses on their device

  • They have money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can't or won't explain

- How to prevent your child being groomed

You should teach your child about healthy relationships and the need to stay safe online.

Without completely taking your child offline it will be very difficult to guarantee you've prevented your child being groomed, but the NSPCC says there are steps to take which can reduce the risk.

The most important step is to speak to your child about healthy relationships and the need to stay safe online.

If your child isn't comfortable talking to you about being online, remind them there are other adults they can talk to, including those on Childline.

Encourage your child to be honest and transparent with what they're doing online.

One way to try make sure they're safe is to keep games consoles and computers in the living room or family spaces and remember to use parental controls.

- What to do if your child reveals abuse

If your child talks to you about grooming, the NSPCC says there are several things to remember.

  • Always listen carefully to what they're saying

  • Make sure they know they've done the right thing by telling you

  • Don't confront the alleged abuser

  • Tell the child it isn't their fault

  • Explain what you're going to do next

  • Report the alleged abuse as soon as possible

For any advice you can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.