| Grooming

Is my child being groomed? And what to do next

Alžbeta Kovaľová | 09 Dec 2023

It is a horrible situation to find yourself in as a parent, finding out that your child has been attacked by an online predator, manipulated, and taken advantage of.


Most predators try their hardest to not be found out, and they manage to do so for quite a long time. So, finding out that your child might be involved with someone like that is a challenge on its own. We sat down with child psychologist Jarmila Tomkova to talk about early signs, what is going on in the child’s mind and what we can do to prevent grooming and help them in situations such as these.

Is my child waving a red flag?
Some of the early signs that a child might be dealing with a predator/groomer are that the child starts acting in an unnatural way. “For example, when they get a text message and they don’t open it right away, or they turn the phone upside down to hide it. Or even more subtle hints, like using their phone more at night, only using it when adults are not around and other odd behaviors,” Jarmila explains.

“The signs can be visible on the outside, but some the child only feels on the inside. One of the early signs, which is both visible and invisible, that the child is being manipulated, is their hesitancy to talk about it. The toxicity of the malicious relationship made them feel as if they´d done something wrong, hence not wanting to share their inner world.  They often feel anxious after talking to the groomer, which can be visible to the parent,” says Jarmila. “The child may start acting aloof, withdraws themselves from society, gets into more conflicts. None of these, however, on their own mean that the child is being groomed.”

True, none of these alone mean that a child might be in contact with a predator, but they are red flags for you as a parent to start noticing your child more, start talking to them, being more present.

Among more explicit signs is also gift giving. “If a child receives a gift, whether it be something physical or online, such as lives or points in a game, that is a big red flag and should never not be noticed.” Explains Jarmila, “Another is, when a child goes to meet someone, and doesn´t tell the parents. This should be a clear indicator that something is wrong.”

 Find out more about how groomers work in this article.

What to do?
Use analogical stories, educational videos, your own experience. “If a parent is suspicious that their child might be involved with a predator, it is really important not to make them feel like they are being interrogated. It´s a good idea to maybe watch a video together on the topic. That way it feels more like the child and the parent have a common ground and can talk about it, rather than the parent interrogating the child.”

The next step in finding out what is going on is to talk from experience. “Don´t even be afraid to make the story up. For example, say that your friend’s child was involved in something similar. This gives the child an opportunity to not feel alone in their struggle,” Jarmila explains. Even if it turns out your child is not involved in anything like grooming, it is good to let them know that these things can happen to anyone and that there is no shame in it. This will still be a great learning opportunity, that even if it´s not happening to them now, it might in the future and they might have a guide as to how they should approach the situation. If it does, they will at least know what to do, and this may serve to child as an opening to talk to their parent. It will create a non-judgmental environment, and if the child is struggling, they may want to keep the conversation going. I tis much easier this way for them to open up on this topic.

Don’t ask the child directly
Instead, ask them if they know anyone who might be dealing with such an issue. Maybe it´s a friend, or someone from school. “This way we move from the video to a hypothetical story, to the child´s own environment. Even talking about your own experiences of being deceived by someone can help the child feel safer and open themselves up to you,” says Jarmila. “At the end can we expect the child to tell. Even if at this point the child doesn´t want to say, it is very easy to see it on their body language.”

What if the child isn’t opening up to us?
There are personality types that tend to cling onto their own experience in life and not share too much, especially when it comes to such a sensitive topic as sexual assault and manipulation. There are a lot of stigmas surrounding the topic, and more so for a child, a lot of shame. “We as parents and responsible adults have the responsibility to protect our children from harm. If it comes to it, I think we can push the child a little, ask them to have a look at their phone, see who they´re texting, what they view on social media,” says Jarmila, explaining that the child´s protection and safety should be the parent’s number one concern. Always give them a reason why you suggest that so that the child knows you are not punishing them.

“In case the child doesn´t want to tell the parent, it is good to encourage them to talk to someone else. Find a trustworthy adult and talk to them. It doesn´t necessarily need to be their parent.” It is important to keep yourself calm as the parent and not to pressure the child too much. “Sometimes it´s good to let the child know that they don´t need to tell us right away. Instead, arrange a specific time in the near future for a chat, or tell them to talk to another adult. Let them know that you are there for them, and you are just concerned and want what´s best for them. Let them know that many people get deceived, and it is not unusual for us to believe people and they let us down.”


Prevention starts as early as preschool. Restriction of technologies is not an answer.


Is it possible to prevent grooming?

Even though is it not possible to prevent this from happening to children, there are certain steps we can take to make sure our children are armed as best as they can be when such risks occur. Jarmila explains that it is important to educate children as early as preschool about technology and its risks.

Jarmila gave us this list of things we can do to best equip our children:

  1. Talk to your kids about what´s going on online and offline – do not limit the conversation to what´s going on at school.
  2. The parents should be the trendsetter in the family. They set what the family talks about and what topics are taboo.
  3. Build trust from a young age – make sure the child understands that they can come to you with anything.
  4. Talk about our failures – life is about ups and downs, and it is good to show our children that we make mistakes just as much as they do.
  5. Set boundaries – for example, limit the time spent on social media, or who they can be friends with on Facebook. And be clear and transparent with the reasons why.
  6. Use parental control and transparently explain security – don’t just give them a phone with the security setting already in place. Show them what the parental controls do, come to conclusions together and make sure they understand why these are important.
  7. Educate yourself and your child – make yourself a TikTok account and understand the platforms. This will give you great advantage later on, when dealing with an issue.
  8. Do things together – play online games, do a stream together.

First contacts
Once grooming starts, the first step of the predator is to build trust and convince the child that they like them and they are important to them. “Here it is really important for the child to understand where the boundaries of friendly conversation are. It is not normal for a friend to want to keep their talks a secret. It is not normal for them to want to see the child from behind, or their neck. These are all signs that the child should be wary of when talking to anyone online,” says Jarmila when asked how the child can figure out who they´re talking to.

When the child gets suspicious, they should start making screenshots, even if the child is not ready to talk to an adult about it. “As soon as something gets suspicious, take a screenshot. This is not unusual for a child, and it is a great way to gather proof.”

“Never do anything you wouldn´t want your friends and parent to know about, and never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Those are the healthy boundaries that apply both online and offline,” Jarmila explains.

Mom, Dad … I think I´ve made a mistake
It is really important to let your child know they have done nothing wrong. “Make sure your child knows that everybody makes mistakes and that this wasn´t their fault. Anyone can get manipulated, especially by a professional, which predator are. After the child comes to us and tells us what´s going on, it is an instinct of many parents to take their smartphone away. Please don´t do that. The child is the victim and should not be punished. Instead, offer them your help, seek a professional, and continue to educate them and yourself on the harms and risks of the digital world,” says Jarmila.

The child needs to feel like telling their parents is finally a happy ending. Acceptance and love are key to making sure the child is being heard and understood. After all, it is up to us to create paths for your children, so they can navigate their digital journey safely.

About the author

Alžbeta Kovaľová /
Security writer

Alžbeta has worked at ESET for two years...

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