What is online grooming and how can I protect my kids?

Nyrmah J. Reina 11 Jul 2024

Online grooming is a serious issue that can affect any child with internet access. Understanding how it works and how to prevent it is crucial for keeping your kids safe.

We live our lives in two worlds: the real one and the digital one. We communicate online all the time. Most jobs, if not all, have at least a web component. The internet is a necessity for school and colleges. Even everyday appliances can be connected to wifi.

This generation of kids and the next are expected to live and engage with people online more than ever before. With that in mind, we need to protect them, not only against the usual stranger danger, but also against online grooming.

What is online grooming?

Online grooming is the process by which an adult befriends and builds an emotional connection with a child online, with the intent of sexually abusing or exploiting them.

Various reports warn against the growing prevalence and significant impact of this issue. For instance, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s 2023 Global Threat Assessment reports a staggering 87% increase in child sexual abuse materials since 2019.

What does online child grooming look like?

Online grooming typically follows several stages, each designed to build trust and manipulate the child. Unfortunately, it was reported that 60% of perpetrators were known to the victim, guaranteeing easier access to the kids.


Groomers seek out potential victims through social media, gaming platforms, or chat rooms.

What you might see: New friend requests from unknown adults, sudden interest in new games or apps.


Groomers start building a relationship by giving attention, compliments, or gifts.

What you might see: Excessive chatting with new “friends,” receiving unsolicited gifts or game credits.

Testing boundaries

The groomer begins to desensitize the child to inappropriate content.

What you might see: Sharing of slightly inappropriate jokes or images, discussing personal or private matters.


The groomer encourages the child to cut off communication with others who might intervene.

What you might see: Increased secrecy about online activities, reluctance to discuss new friends or interactions.


The groomer gradually introduces sexual content and conversation.

What you might see: Discovery of explicit messages, images, or requests for inappropriate photos.


The groomer exerts control over the childoften using threats or blackmail.

What you might see: Signs of distress, withdrawal from family and friends, unexplained fear of getting into trouble.

Signs of online grooming

Children may exhibit various behaviors when being groomed, which can differ by age group. Online predators may lure young children with unexplained gifts and new devices while promoting secretive behavior. On the other hand, teenagers’ signs include mood swings, withdrawal from usual activities, and excessive use of devices in private.

Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Sudden change in behavior or routine
  • Secretive online activity
  • Unexplained new contacts or friends
  • Receiving gifts or money from unknown sources
  • Emotional distress after using the internet

Tips to help prevent online child grooming

Prevention starts with awareness and proactive measures. Here are some strategies:

  • Maintain open communication. Talk regularly with your kids about their online activities.
  • Use parental controls. Utilize software to monitor and limit your child's internet usage.
  • Educate about online safety. Teach your kids about the risks of sharing personal information online.
  • Monitor friend lists. Regularly check who your child is interacting with online.
  • Set boundaries. Establish rules for internet usage, including time limits and approved apps and websites.
  • Use cybersecurity software. Help maintain your child’s devices and accounts safe with extra online protection.

What to do if you think your child is being groomed online

If you suspect your child is being groomed, act quickly and decisively:

  • Stay calm. Approach your child with care and understanding.
  • Gather evidence. Save any messages, emails, or other evidence of grooming.
  • Report. Contact local authorities, child protection services, or the FBI.
  • Seek support. Find a counselor or support group for you and your child.

Keeping your kids safe online

Your child's safety online requires vigilance and the right tools. Regularly discuss online safety, stay engaged with their digital life, and use robust online safety tools. By staying informed and proactive, you can help protect your children from online grooming and other digital threats.

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