25 Signs of Child Grooming and Abuse Parents Should Recognize
Parents have a primary responsibility to be the protectors of children from all forms of harm. Unfortunately, child grooming, one of the most distressing experiences a child can endure, is on the rise in today’s world.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys were exposed to child grooming and have experienced some child sexual abuse. Therefore, all parents must recognize the signs of child grooming to put a stop to the abuse and exploitation of children.
Understanding Child Grooming
Child grooming is a form of child abuse in which an older individual builds a trusting relationship and an emotional connection with a child to exploit and abuse them. Many people associate child grooming with solely sexual abuse. However, this is not true.
According to The Conversation, groomers abuse children and adults for sexual, financial, romantic, and criminal purposes. Groomers may build relationships with children to separate them from their caregivers for the purpose of sexual abuse in the future or to get children to engage in illicit and criminal activities like child prostitution, pornography, and trafficking of children or drugs.
Unfortunately, this form of child abuse does not always occurs in person but also online. Groomers may find vulnerable children on social media apps and work on gaining the children’s trust slowly by using fake identities and posing as minors to harm them sexually or emotionally. It is important to realize that anyone can be a child predator, including family members.
Different Types of Child Grooming
There are various types of child grooming, each consisting of different grooming behaviors that parents should keep an eye out for.
Online grooming involves children being manipulated via social media apps, online chatrooms, or online games. According to Cybertip, online grooming usually occurs to get children to send sexual pictures of themselves online.
This involves the sharing of sexual content between an adult and children to help desensitize children to inappropriate sexual behavior and/or to initiate underage sexual relationships.
Groomers may give minors drugs to help get them addicted and blur their judgment. Their main goal is to get them to engage in criminal activities without thinking.
This type of grooming is often confused with mentoring. The difference is that mentoring children usually involves teaching many children and giving special attention to children whose parents demand extra attention.
This mentoring usually happens on a group site. On the other hand, Sabbath School Net states that grooming by a mentor usually involves a mentor giving special attention to a child who does not really need it and usually tries to isolate the child from the rest of the group.
The Six Stages of Child Grooming
According to the Child Advocates Centres of Alberta, the grooming process consists of six general stages regardless of the type of grooming.
Finding a Potential Victim
Child groomers search for potential victims by choosing children who appear to have low self-confidence or require emotional support.
Building the Relationship
The groomers try to learn many things about the child and work on building a relationship with both the children and the parents. They may offer to babysit often or take the child to after-school activities/events to portray themselves as a helpful and thoughtful member of the family.
Filling a Need
Groomers use their close relationship with a victim to learn personal information about them – often probing the child to learn about any issues with friends, family members, or insecurities and low self-esteem.
Groomers then use this knowledge to offer their target extra support and attention, so that the child learns to depend on them. This “need” can also be something like buying the child clothes and expensive gifts if their parents aren’t well-off financially or are generally neglectful.
Isolating the Child
The groomers work on spending time with the child when he/she is alone. If the groomer has created a strong relationship with the child's parents, spending alone time with the child would be one of the easiest stages of grooming.
The next stage of grooming is desensitization. This involves the offender testing the child’s boundaries and breaking those boundaries slowly by increasing inappropriate touching or other inappropriate behavior gradually.
The touching may start as play, such as wrestling and tickling, and then progress to touching the private parts. When it comes to online grooming, the groomer may start off sharing inappropriate images like a topless picture and progress to images and videos displaying extremely inappropriate sexual content.
Child Sexual Abuse & Blaming
Once the physical or emotional abuse begins, the offender keeps everything in control by threatening the child and blaming him/her for what is happening.
Who Is at Risk for Child Grooming?
All children are at risk for child grooming. However, child groomers tend to look for children with the following vulnerabilities.
- Children who lack self-confidence
- Children whose parents are always busy or do not play a major role in their lives
- Kids who have chaotic home environments
- Children with disabilities
- Children who are neglected and in need of emotional support
- Very young children who do not yet understand everything that is going on around them
- Any child online who does not have regular parental supervision
- Socially isolated children
Signs of Grooming and Abuse Parents Should Recognize
According to Saprea, there are common grooming behaviors and signs that parents can identify to determine whether their child is being subjected to grooming. Here are the most common warning signs. Child predators may:
- Always be interested in spending time with the child.
- Try to prevent other adults from interfering during the time they spend with the child.
- Show excessive admiration for a child.
- Buy gifts for the child without the permission of the parents and for no apparent reason.
- Try to convince the parents that they love their kids and can be trusted.
- Walk in on the child when he/she is in the bathroom or try to visit her/his room to learn more about the child.
- “Accidentally” expose their bodies to the child.
- Make comments about the child’s body.
- Share sexual content with the kid or say sexual jokes.
- Frequently touch the child. It could be very innocent like hugging and high fives.
- Gradually increase inappropriate touching like sitting on the lap and kissing or other types of sexual contact.
- Ask parents to take their children on trips and vacations.
Groomers are not the only ones who display signs of grooming. Your child may also show signs that they are being manipulated, threatened, and abused. Some red flags include:
- The child may have unexplained bruises or sexual injuries.
- The child may show signs of fear around a specific person.
- Children may regress in development when being abused. For example, potty-trained children may begin wetting themselves more often.
- The child’s academic performance may gradually decline as the abuse increases.
- The child’s behavior may change. Children may become quieter and more anxious when exposed to grooming and other forms of abuse.
- Children may make sexual comments, displaying sexual knowledge beyond what is appropriate for their age.
Warning Signs of Online Grooming
There are also warning signs that parents can look out for to recognize that their child is being targeted online by groomers or online predators. Your children may:
- Spend a lot of time on their online devices.
- Not want to talk about what they are doing online.
- Close the door of their room when online.
- Have new gifts and do not want to talk about where they got them from.
- Change the way they behave and dress.
- Start to use inappropriate language.
- Excessively text someone and lie about who it is.
The Long-Term Impact of Child Grooming on Children
Child grooming, unfortunately, has a lifelong impact on children. According to INHOPE, child grooming has short and long-term consequences on a child’s life regardless if the grooming occurred in person or online. These negative effects include:
- Mental Health Issues
- High Level of Stress
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Problems in Future Relationships
- Decline in Academic Performance
- Inability to Concentrate
- Drug Abuse
- Self Doubt
- Constant Feeling of Anger
- Trust Issues
5 Essential Steps to Take When Your Child Is Being Groomed
It is crucial to act fast when finding out that a child is being groomed whether in person or online. Here is what parents should do when a child is being groomed and how to prevent kids from experiencing this abuse again.
Listen to the Child
You should ask the child what has happened. Ask for details and listen carefully. The child should not be blamed or criticized. Instead, the child should feel free and comfortable to speak.
Isolate the Child from the Groomer
You should tell the child to stay away from the child abuser. Make sure there is no way for them to contact each other. If it occurred online, encourage your child to spend less time online. You should also not confront the abuser in any way.
Write Down Everything Your Child Says
Try to learn as much as possible about what has happened. The local authorities will want to know all the details. The more details you provide, the higher the possibility the groomer would be caught and locked up.
Report the Abuse
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), parents and caregivers should immediately report any form of child abuse, including sexual exploitation. You should not wait to report what has happened. You can report the abuse by calling the local authorities or child protective services.
Educate Your Child about Child Grooming and Sexual Assault
To prevent this from happening again, it is crucial to teach your child and teen how to prevent child grooming from happening again. You can do this by making your child feel comfortable enough to talk to you about anything and saying no to inappropriate relationships.
You should also teach them about healthy relationships and what is considered an inappropriate relationship with children. Make sure you teach your child and teen how to report sexual assault and to whom. Some people they may be able to trust to report such an incident include family members, the local police, and teachers, taking into account that they are not the ones who are abusing the child. Also, teens who are too afraid or uncomfortable to speak to their parents can call certain hotlines and cyber tip lines to report sexual abuse.
Some resources and hotlines include:
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's CyberTipline (Available 24/7)
- Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
Spotting the Red Flags of Child Grooming
In conclusion, parents should learn the signs of child grooming and abuse to keep their kids safe. Child grooming is a deliberate process that child predators use to gain access to a child’s trust and abuse them in the near future.
Therefore, parents must always be open with their children and attentive to any change in their children’s behaviors to prevent child grooming and sexual assault. Remember, there are always red flags when it comes to abuse and manipulation.
6 perpetrator child grooming behaviors. Saprea. (n.d.). https://saprea.org/blog/6-perpetrator-grooming-behaviors/
CACs, A. (2020, August 21). Stages of grooming. Child Advocacy Centres of Alberta. https://www.albertacacs.ca/blog/stages-of-grooming
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 6). Fast facts: Preventing child sexual abuse |violence prevention|injury Center|CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childsexualabuse/fastfact.html
Child sexual abuse: Online grooming. Cybertip.ca. (n.d.). https://www.cybertip.ca/en/child-sexual-abuse/grooming/#:~:text=Online%20grooming%20is%20a%20process,their%20sexual%20requests%20or%20demands.
Earnhardt, W. (2017, April 7). Mentoring and coaching vs grooming. Sabbath School Net. https://ssnet.org/blog/mentoring-coaching-vss-grooming/
Eugene, N. (2022, May 16). Grooming: An expert explains what it is and how to identify it. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/grooming-an-expert-explains-what-it-is-and-how-to-identify-it-181573
FBI. (2016, May 3). Parents, caregivers, teachers. FBI. https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/parents-and-caregivers-protecting-your-kids#:~:text=To%20report%20online%20child%20sexual,%2D800%2D843%2D5678.
The impact of online grooming. INHOPE. (n.d.). https://www.inhope.org/EN/articles/the-impact-of-online-grooming#:~:text=The%20consequences,traumatic%20stress%2C%20and%20suicidal%20thoughts.
Was this article helpful?