When pedophiles try to contact children on online platforms, experts speak of so-called “cybergrooming”. Media teacher Saskia Nakari from the Stuttgart City Media Center regularly holds preventive events on this topic in schools and advises parents and children. She says: Adults often underestimate the potential dangers of social media. “I have the feeling that we are still turning a blind eye to it.” The problem is that teachers and parents are often not in the world of the 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,” says Nakari. If she is in a school class, there are always at least two children who have already had the relevant experience. According to their assessment, more than half of the children have already communicated with strangers via social networks. According to Nakari, the UN and FBI estimate that there are approximately 750,000 pedophiles online worldwide every second.
On which platforms are children potentially at risk?
“There is no social network that is exclusively for children,” says media educator Nakari. Adults are also on all platforms and thus also topics such as violence and sexual assault. Basically, girls are more likely to be victims of cybergrooming on image-heavy platforms, such as Instagram or Tiktok. “If, for example, children post pictures where their room can be seen in the background, the perpetrators can easily find a starting point for a conversation.” With boys, it can be noted that contact is more likely to take place via video games with a chat function, such as Fifa or Fortnite – as apparently also in the Ayleen case.
How can children tell if they have received messages from strangers with bad 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 e.g. want to have the phone number. The expert advises that it is advisable to always stay in public chats such as on Instagram and not switch to private chat rooms such as Whatsapp. In addition, alarm bells should ring if the contact is to be kept secret, a meeting in real life is proposed, or money and gifts are offered. It is also important that children always inform their parents or other adult caregivers if there is to be a meeting. It is also a good idea to bring a friend and only meet in public.
What can parents do to protect their children?
It is essential for parents to understand what fascinates their children about the platform, says Saskia Nakari. “Parents should play a computer game, read along while they chat and let them show you what their kids are doing on Tiktok,” advises the media educator. In addition, it is incredibly important to look at the privacy settings when entering the platforms. “On Tiktok, for example, everything is public,” says Nakari. It makes sense to set that initially only real-life friends can write to their own child. In addition, it is important to convey to the child “that a lot of mistakes happen on the Internet”, and it is important that the child then informs the parents. “If kids always have to worry about their cellphones being taken away, they won’t.”
Who can parents contact if their children are victims?