What is grooming and how can I protect my children from it?

Girl using a social media service on a laptop

Breanna (not her real name) never really thought about (and certainly never planned to) share sensitive photos online. Just like she never thought so many strangers would see them if she did or how long they could stay on the internet. She had more important things on her mind; things like playing Roblox with friends and an upcoming social studies test.

While the grooming didn’t start right away, everything happened quickly once she realized something was wrong. Breanna had only thought she had made a new friend- one that was a little bit older and more mature. He complemented her, listened to her… made her feel grown up. By the time he started making demands, she felt it was too late to ask for help. By the time her parents found out, Breanna had been a victim of grooming and child exploitation.

In today’s world, children are increasingly exposed to various forms of communication and social interaction. Grooming has emerged as a major concern for parents, educators, and communities alike. Grooming refers to the process by which an individual builds a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a child to later exploit them sexually, emotionally, or physically. Recognizing the signs of grooming and understanding how to protect children from harm is an important part of protecting their well-being.

Understanding Grooming

Grooming can be difficult to detect because it can happen online and offline, or sometimes both. The perpetrators often use manipulation, coercion, and deceit to establish trust with their victims, and threats or guilt to maintain control. All this is psychologically damaging to children, and can manifest in depression, self-harm, and other concerning behaviors. It typically involves several stages, including targeting the victim, gaining their trust, isolating them from others, and eventually exploiting them. Perpetrators may employ various tactics, such as offering gifts, attention, or affection, to lure children into a false sense of security.

In some cases, the victim is led to believe that providing whatever the perpetrator demands will be enough and it will stop on its own. In other cases, the victim feels some sort of bond with the perpetrator and believes that person has their best interests in mind. The first is very unlikely, and the second is never the case. In the end, children often end up believing that the abuse is their fault, which is never the case.

Recognize the Signs

Recognizing the signs of grooming, whether online or off, is an essential skill for parents, caregivers, educators, or anyone else that works with children. Some common signs that a child is being groomed for further abuse include:

  1. Excessive attention or gifts from an adult towards a child, which may be delivered in secret or through delivery lockers
  2. Secrecy or reluctance to discuss activities or interactions with certain individuals
  3. Sudden changes in behavior, mood swings, or withdrawal from family and friends
  4. Inappropriate discussions or questions, especially of a sexual nature
  5. Any attempts to isolate the child from peers and family members

Protecting Children

Preventing grooming and protecting children requires a multi-faceted approach involving education, communication, and vigilance. Here are some strategies to help safeguard children:

Education: Teach children about personal boundaries, safe touch, and the importance of open communication. Encourage them to speak up if they feel uncomfortable or threatened by someone’s behavior.

Communication: Maintain open and honest communication with children. Encourage them to share their experiences and concerns without fear of judgment. Listen actively and validate their feelings.

Supervision: Monitor children’s online and offline activities (while still respecting their privacy, which isn’t always an easy balance!), especially when interacting with unfamiliar individuals or platforms. Establish guidelines for internet usage and encourage safe online practices.

Establish Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding interactions with adults and strangers. Teach children to trust their instincts and seek help if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Community Involvement: Foster a supportive community environment where individuals look out for each other’s well-being. Encourage collaboration between parents, schools, law enforcement, and community organizations to raise awareness and prevent grooming.

Reporting: Educate children about the importance of reporting any suspicious behavior or incidents to a trusted adult. Empower them to seek help if they or someone they know is being groomed or exploited.


Grooming is a complex and insidious form of abuse that can have long-lasting effects on children’s physical and emotional well-being. By understanding the signs of grooming and taking proactive measures to protect children, we can create safer environments where they can grow and thrive without fear of exploitation. It is our collective responsibility to prioritize the safety and well-being of our children and empower them to recognize and resist potential dangers. Through education, communication, and community support, we can work together to prevent grooming and ensure a brighter future for our children.