Cybergrooming in online games: How to protect your children

15 August 2022

  • 14-year-old Ayleen was killed at the end of July, she knew her alleged perpetrator through the online game Fortnite
  • Cybergrooming is one of the most common boundary violations that children and young people experience online
  • Open communication and education are the best ways to protect your children

“You can build trust very well through the shared gaming experience. (…) That’s exactly what makes the games interesting for sex offenders.” (Thomas-Gabriel Rüdiger, cybercriminologist)

The Ayleen murder case: She knew the perpetrator from the Internet

On July 21, 14-year-old Ayleen disappears without a trace. For a week emergency services with sniffer dogs and helicopters are looking for the young people. On July 29, the girl’s body can only be found by locating the cell phone. A short time later, a 29-year-old suspect was arrested. He and his victim met through the online game Fortnite, which is popular among young people. There, the suspected perpetrator probably tried for weeks to win the 14-year-old’s trust, and the emergency services are now assessing the data. It can be assumed that Ayleen was a victim of “cybergrooming”.

Cybergrooming: What is it?

When unfamiliar adults try to gain the trust of children and young people via the internet, it is referred to as “cybergrooming”. In most cases, this is done with sexual intent. The adult often follows a pattern with the aim of getting the minor to exchange sexual content or meet. According to research behind the unsolicited reception of sexually related visual material, cybergrooming is the most common boundary violation that children and young people experience on the Internet.

More background information and tips to protect against cybergrooming can be found in this video from the North Rhine-Westphalia Media Authority:

Uncontrolled chats

Video games are more popular today than ever, especially games that are played online by multiple players. Communication is important to be able to talk about goals in the game, to plan, but also to create contacts that extend beyond the game round. The problem: unlike most social media, moderator support for the respective chats is limited or even non-existent. This makes online gaming attractive to cyber groomers. And another feature of online games “uses” them: greater anonymity. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, it is often common for games not to use a profile picture. This makes it easier for cyber groomers to imitate their peers.

Be careful with strangers and personal topics

There are some ground rules we can teach our kids about playing online games. So it is important that you should never add people to your friends list that you do not know. In the case of in-game chats, we must point out that you should definitely be careful if the chat is no longer about the current game, but about private topics. As soon as strangers on the Internet suggest a real meeting, absolute restraint is the order of the day. The rule of thumb is: don’t meet strangers. The EU initiative Klicksafe provides other important tips to prevent cybergrooming and other digital dangers.

Competent parents

To protect our children as best as possible, it helps enormously if we as parents are familiar with children’s games and gaming platforms. We don’t need to become experts for every single game. It is enough if we know which games and platforms our children use and have basic knowledge about them. A good way to get to know the different platforms and make them more secure is the state media authorities’ “Media Childproof” service. There is a step-by-step description of how to set the security settings for the most common platforms and game consoles.

The best precaution

The most important recommendation from the experts is openness and willingness to talk to our children. They need the feeling that they can always turn to us with their problems and situations on the Internet, even if they are uncomfortable. The experts therefore recommend regularly talking to our child about the games, even having one or the other game demonstrated or playing it yourself. Because – based on experience – we regularly discuss computer games, on the one hand we automatically have a better overview of what our child is currently busy with, on the other hand a relationship of trust develops in this area. This increases the chance that our children will “call in” if they have unpleasant, unusual, or downright disturbing experiences.

The EU initiative for more safety – klicksafe.de – has a list of possible advice centers for those seeking help on its website.

Leave a Comment