When pedophiles try to contact children on online platforms, experts talk about what is called “online grooming.” Media educator Saskia Naccari from the Stuttgart City Media Center regularly holds preventative events on this topic in schools and advises parents and children. Adults often underestimate the potential dangers of social media, she says. “I have a feeling we’re still turning a blind eye to that.” The problem is that teachers and parents are not often in the world of children, who often do not know the platforms well.
How common is it for children to be sexually harassed on social media?
“The number of unreported cases is very high,” Naqari says. If she is in a classroom, there are always at least two children who already have the relevant experience. According to their assessment, more than half of the children have already communicated with strangers through social networks. According to Nakari, the United Nations and the FBI estimate that there are approximately 750,000 online pedophiles worldwide every second.
On which platforms are children likely to be at risk?
“There is no social network that is just for kids,” says Naqari, the media educator. Adults are also on all platforms, hence also topics such as violence and sexual assault. Basically, girls are more likely to be victims of online adaptation on photo-heavy platforms, such as Instagram or Tiktok. “If children post pictures there, for example, where their room can be seen in the background, offenders can easily find a starting point for the conversation.” With boys, it can be seen that communication most likely occurs via video games with a chat function, such as Fifa or Fortnite – as it seems also in the case of Ayleen.
How can children know if messages have been sent to them by strangers with ill intentions?
According to Saskia Nakari, there are warning signs that children can watch out for. “It’s always a similar scam,” she says. Caution is advised if the interlocutor wants to get the phone number, for example. The expert advises to always stay in public conversations, such as Instagram, and not switch to private chat rooms such as Whatsapp. In addition, alarm bells should sound if the contact is kept secret, a meeting is proposed in real life or money and gifts are offered. It is also important for children to always inform their parents or other adult caregivers if a meeting should take place. It is also a good idea to take a friend and meet only in public.
What can parents do to protect their children?
Saskia Nakari says it is essential for parents to understand what fascinates their children about the platform. “Parents should play a computer game, read while chatting and let them show what their kids are doing on Tiktok,” the media specialist advises. In addition, it is very important to take a look at the privacy settings when entering the platforms. “On Tiktok, for example, everything is public,” says Naqari. It makes sense to specify that at first only friends from real life can write to their child. In addition, it is important to convey to the child that “a lot of chaos is happening on the Internet” and it is important that the child then informs the parents. “If kids always have to worry that their cell phones are going to be taken away, they don’t.”
Who can parents contact if their children are victims?