Talking to your child about predators can be hard to navigate. Here are our top tips to help get the conversation started.
Come up with some ways to describe an online predator in an age-appropriate way. As parents, we know much more than our children need to know when it comes to grooming and predatory behaviour, but it's important not to scare them unnecessarily and keep things simple.
You might start by talking about their thoughts on the difference between the words “safe" and "unsafe”. Help them attach their feelings to those words, and then discuss what an unsafe stranger might be, how they might make you feel and why.
A great discussion starter is talking about the 3 golden rules of online communication:
Having difficult conversations isn’t easy for anyone, but there are a couple of tips that can help keep things on track:
Research shows that kids will often choose not to report issues they experience in the online world for fear of parental judgement, overreaction or device removal. It is imperative they know that they can come to you no matter what and you will be able to help them. The biggest protective factor for kids is help-seeking behaviour, so ensure you find ways to convey that to them.
Find out what they know about online predators, and what they think grooming actually is. Children at this age have often been exposed to media or news reports on the topic, or heard rumours at school, and feel they understand what online predators are about. Worse, many also feel they may be able to outsmart predators by tricking them or beating them at their own "game." It is helpful to sort fact from fiction when it comes to what kids know about where predators might be present and help them make the connection in understanding why speaking to someone online can have dangerous, real-life repercussions.
Talking to your child about online predators is an incredibly important topic to raise early and often, but you don’t need to go into the specifics regarding the intentions of online predators and grooming (specifically the sexualised intentions). Sticking with facts like “Online predators are people who use the internet to take advantage of kids” is enough.
Identify and manage your own emotions when it comes to discussing this topic with your teenager (especially if there has been an incident). The fact that your children have potentially put themselves in a risky situation with a stranger is enough to cause any parent's blood pressure to rise! Take a few deep breaths, focus on facts without over-dramatising, and try not to judge them by seeking to understand their motivations for communicating with people they don’t know online.
Wait, you’re their parent, right? Why would they not feel safe coming to you?!
Research shows that kids are reluctant to come to their parents when things go wrong online because they feel the parent will overreact or make the situation worse. Make sure your child knows they can come to you without being judged. Be clear that you will find a solution. Be clear that you are on their side.
Remember that your teen's interpretation of online safety when it comes to strangers may be quite different to your own. Try listening to them from a place of curiosity and inquisitiveness, but also ensure you have some facts and evidence to back up your concerns and to get them to consider alternative viewpoints.
Keep the conversation casual, and ask them to teach you what they know. If teens feel they are being interrogated, they tend to shut down. When you allow them to feel empowered by sharing and teaching you (even if you have to play a little dumb), the conversation will flow more easily.