According to a recent Greek survey, 91 per cent of children aged 5 to 12 use the internet on a daily basis, and 97 per cent of children aged 10 to 12 have online accounts or profiles. A large percentage of children who use the internet – mostly unattended – are sometimes approached by malicious users.
Indicative results of the risks children face online, from a series of surveys conducted by the Greek Safer Internet Centre (FORTH), showed that 21 per cent of children state that they have been harassed online, 21 per cent have agreed to meet someone they have met online in person, and 41 per cent have accepted friend requests from strangers. Conversely, a recent survey of parents revealed that only 32 per cent of the respondents were concerned that their child has contact with strangers online.
Online grooming can happen on any website that is popular with children and teenagers, such as online gaming websites, social networks, online chat platforms, and more.
Some online groomers may pretend to be the same age as children or young people (for example, by posting a fake photo on their profile and declaring a fake age); this is just one of the reasons why it is important to be very careful about who children and young people chat with online. Moreover, online groomers usually know how to psychologically and emotionally manipulate adolescents by mimicking their jargon and ways of thinking and can therefore use various techniques to gain the young person's trust.
Here are four points for children to keep in mind to protect themselves from the risks of online grooming:
- Be careful with online interactions. Children should realise, from the very first moment that they start using the internet, that the people they meet online – regardless of whether they regard them as ‘friends’ or not – will always remain unknown since they do not know them in real life. If someone makes them feel uncomfortable or asks them to do things that they do not want to do, then they should talk to an adult they trust. They should never meet their online ‘friend’ in real life without first informing a parent, carer or teacher.
- Protect personal data. When chatting with someone online or when posting something online, children and young people should keep their personal information private. If they use social media or have a profile in online games, it is important to set security limits on who will have access to the content they publish (for example, by setting the profile to private).
- Be informed about security tools. If someone is troubling them online, it is important for children and young people to know that they can and should save evidence of the troublesome content. An easy way to do this is to use the print screen or screenshot feature on smartphones and save the image as a file. Additionally, many services provide tools that enable users to block and report people who are upsetting them.
- Maintain control. In case children and young people feel uncomfortable while chatting with someone on the internet, they should find the courage to talk to an adult they trust or even report the user to the police.
In the following video, help-line.gr psychologist Maria Dara explains (in Greek) what online grooming of minors is and how parents and carers can protect their children from it.
Find out more about the work of the Greek Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.