Child grooming, a growing problem that worries parents and teachers alike

Última actualización: April 16th, 2020 - 06:21 pm

La tecnología digital brinda grandes avances que ayudan a derribar la barrera de la distancia física y facilitan el acceso de millones de personas al sistema educativo a través del e-learning y al sistema financiero gracias a los sistemas de homebanking, por ejemplo. Por su parte, las redes sociales facilitan los vínculos, relaciones y conversaciones.

This technology revolution, which offers valuable development opportunities, has a hidden side—it enhances dangers that already existed in the offline world, where children are the most vulnerable social group. Dangers such as child grooming are situations that worry parents and teachers alike, specially at the time of starting new school years.

What’s child grooming?

Sebastián Stranieri, CEO of VU™, explains “When we talk about child grooming, we talk about a certain behavior and actions an adult performs through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, in order to establish a relationship with a child, for sexual purposes”. The growth has been exponential in the last few years. While in 2016, the reports were close to 8,800, in 2017 there were more than 23,500, which represents a 300 percent growth.

Lack of knowledge is the main enemy

Last year, a study conducted by the NGO Grooming Argentina showed that only 28.4 percent of Argentine citizens know about this kind of virtual child harassment. What’s more, 39 percent of the surveyed individuals didn’t know what child grooming was. And three out of ten people had never heard about it before.

70 percent of people connect to the Internet via mobile. But the fact that turns on the alarm is that, at age five, seven out of ten children use an adults’ device to play or listen to music. The risk of grooming and cyberbullying are latent.

How to prevent and report to the authorities?

No matter what country you're in, the first recommendation is education and, for parents, to accompany their children. It’s also important to avoid scolding the kids when suspecting a harassment case or attempted abuse. Talking is always the best option. Sebastián Stranieri adds the following suggestions:

  • Increase awareness for children about the dangers of the Internet and maintain an open dialogue between the family’s little ones and the adults.
  • Teach kids not to contact, exchange information or accept friend requests from unknown people.
  • Teach kids not to share private nor personal information (address, telephone number, names and age, family activities’ hour) online.
  • Use parental control programs and change the settings as children grow up.
  • Install the correct software to protect devices from malicious code, spyware and cyberattacks. Even if they’re kids, activity control software can be installed to track any kind of strange behavior.
  • Be alert about the kids’ attitude changes such as more secrecy or mystery about what they do online.

School’s role regarding child grooming

According to an NGO Cybersecure Argentina, in at least 1 out of 10 schools there’re boys or girls that become victims of sexual abuse through the Internet. “That’s why it’s essential both government and civil society organizations work closely with the families about this issue. It’s also important that teachers pay extra attention to the children’s behavior within the classroom, to identify certain attitudes and mainly, with the use of mobile devices within the school,” says the CEO of VU™.

“Besides, it’s important to promote group meeting, thinking and construction spaces about child grooming, promote talks between parents, teachers and specialists. Many schools have already implemented them, but it’s something that must be discussed at all schools, and that has continuity in time, because bullies and stalkers are there. Our kids are in permanent danger,” he adds.

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