CHILD grooming is rare, but it’s something a leading Huddersfield expert says parents need to know more about.
Education about internet safety for children, teenagers and their parents and carers is paramount, says Dr Bernard Gallagher, who has specialised in child protection for the last two decades.
With around four million children posting content online every day, nearly half say their parents know very little or nothing about their online activities.
A report presented to Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Panel last month revealed that 89% of sexual abuse approaches are made through either chat rooms or instant messages.
The concerns come on Safer Internet Day, which is to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology including computers and mobile phones – especially among young people.
It is a European wide safety project.
Dr Gallagher, of Huddersfield University, has studied the subject for years and has conducted his own research into the issue.
He said: “It’s important for parents and carers to keep these problems in perspective – there is a problem but it’s very rare.”
Incidents of cyber bullying and child grooming online remain low and Dr Gallagher said he was surprised by research which shows almost half – 48.6% – of Huddersfield teens questioned last year said they had been bullied.
There are three main areas of concern which Dr Gallagher says parents should be aware of.
“One thing parents and carers can be most concerned about is their children being groomed – that’s where a stranger meets them online and engages with them in a bid to arrange a meeting,” he said.
“Another problem is of children coming across inappropriate images – adult pornography or child pornography which they will probably find more disturbing.
“The other main issue is cyber bullying which is perhaps the most common.
“If we take the problem of grooming, it really is quite rare.
“From the research I’ve done in this area the number of cases police and social services will be dealing with is a small handful each year of young people who have been groomed.
“Most young people who are approached say to themselves ‘I’m not happy with this’ and so stop the contact.
“But, whatever the reason, some young people do not seem to be able to stop it.”
His work in the school of human and health sciences sees him pass on his knowledge to current and future social workers, psychology and police students.
And he says parents should take an interest in what their children do online, adding: “All parents and carers should talk to young people and give them clear messages about not giving out personal details, don’t say which school they go to or give out their mobile phone number.
“Young people also need to be aware that the person they are talking to may not be who they say they are.
“For example, a 14-year-old girl may be chatting online to a guy who says he’s 16, he may even have sent a photograph, but he may not be that person – they need to be wary.”
Young girls are more often the targets and Dr Gallagher believes it is because they are more likely than boys to use the internet to form friendships.
“This may be generalising but boys will play computer games whereas girls are more likely to want to chat and form friendships and relationships.
“Also most child sex offenders are heterosexual and male and therefore are going to target girls.”
Dr Gallagher believes education can be ‘hit and miss’ and although he said school teachers should not be burdened with more work, they could include the issues as part of sex education classes.
His main advice is to parents and carers – learn more about internet safety.
“Young people are very savvy when it comes to the internet,” he added, “but maybe their parents are not as technically minded – if they don’t know about it how can they pass that advice on?”
For more information about staying safe online visit www.childnet-int.org
DON'T give out your personal information. Keep your full name, address, mobile number, email address, school name and friends’ full names secret.
Never meet up with an online friend. Never arrange to meet an online friend, no matter how well you think you know the other person.
Don't open junk mail.
If they have your email address some websites will send you lots of junk emails trying to sell you things, or messages that make you feel uncomfortable. This is called spamming.
Delete any emails from people or companies that you don’t know. If you open an email that says rude or unpleasant things, you must tell a trusted adult straight away – and don’t reply to it.
Beware: people might not be who they say they are.
Chat and message boards are fun, but they can also be dangerous because you don’t know who you’re talking to. Remember stranger danger – you should use the same rules when you’re online.
Always tell an adult if you feel uncomfortable or worried. Don’t forget you can always log-off and leave a website.