Why You Need to Learn About Child Grooming
Most of the time, when I ask an adult if they know what child grooming is they think I'm talking about giving a child a bath and a blowout.
It would be funny if it wasn't so alarming. If you're a parent or work with minors in any capacity knowing what child grooming is and how to prevent it can be life-saving.
So, what is it? Child grooming is when an adult strategically forms a bond with a minor to gain their trust and sexually assault them.
If you've seen the television show "A Teacher" on HULU, you might have an understanding of what predatory grooming is. However, that's just one of many examples of what child grooming can look like. Not to mention, it's a bit glamorized.
The series tells the story of a high school student that forms a relationship with his school teacher. She's beautiful and young, and as far as he's concerned, they're in love. Over time, her student begins to realize that she took advantage of him and robbed him of what should have been some of the sweetest moments of his high school experience. The show is heartbreaking because it lays out some of the long-term effects that grooming can have on a victim, including severe depression and the inability to form healthy relationships with ease.
So, maybe teachers aren't hooking up with students in your school district--but you should still be concerned.
Why? As it stands, this type of predation will occur for 1 out of every 10 minors who are neurotypical and 1 out of every 3 minors who are neurodiverse.
The reality is child grooming is much darker than what you might see represented on television. Historically, these predators were people that were already in a minor's life. It was an uncle, their music teacher, a camp counselor, their pastor, a nanny--someone that society and their own parents trusted.
While this hasn't changed, when you consider social media's evolution and how minors can connect to anonymous adults online, you can expect those numbers to increase exponentially in the years to come.
Today, minors are more isolated than ever. They live with their heads down in their phones, and some thrive off the attention they receive on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Those also happen to be the top three platforms involved in child grooming cases as of the last few years. When I tell parents that, their first response is, "well, that's it, my child can't have a phone until they're 18 years old". That's not the answer, and here's why.
I teach courses on predatory child grooming prevention and what to do if you witness it occurring. I could tell you a myriad of ways to prevent this from happening to the youth in your life.
Your number one defense is your communication with children. Suppose you isolate a child from their social network, either online or in-person. In that case, you're making them more vulnerable to predators because they're already in need of attention. Suppose they feel you're unreasonable for taking their technology away when all their friends have access to it. In that case, a predator will jump at the opportunity to place a wedge between you or the child by acting as a "voice of reason."
When children know they can tell you anything and you can keep your lines of communication open, you stand a much better chance of knowing when an adult is acting inappropriately with them. You can take a phone or a computer away, but there will always be some way for them to access the internet. Additionally, if you're too focused on the internet as the source of potential danger, you can miss what's right under your nose: the adults you thought you could trust.
Fortunately, whether you work with minors or you're a parent, there are plenty of ways to educate and be proactive about preventing child grooming.
- Sammy Witness, Sex Educator.