Spotting the signs of online grooming in young people

By Dr Richard Schoeberl, US Team Leader, Hope for Justice 

Now is a time when everyone, us parents and our children alike, are spending a great deal of time online. And since the advent of Covid-19, even more so. Many of us are working online. Our children and teenagers are doing their schoolwork, talking to their friends, and doing their hobbies online.

While much of this may be harmless fun, when should we be concerned? I’m sure you will have heard about online grooming – a term referring to people using apps, social media and other online spaces to target vulnerable young people and exploit them.

As US Team Leader for Hope for Justice, I’ve seen an increase in the numbers of young people being targeted in this way, and myself and my team are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to stamp out this vile practice. While we often succeed in stopping the train in its tracks, unfortunately this is not always possible, and we have seen young people be abused and exploited as a result.

So as parents, what can we do about it? I have a 16-year-old daughter and I know that if I wasn’t already aware of the signs, I’d want to know what to look out for.

Be aware of signs of trauma or distress in your children. Look out for any unusual aggressive or secretive behaviour. Isolating themselves from you or their friends could be a sign. They may want to be on their own a lot, or be very non-communicative with you. Something else to look out for is your child clearing their internet history on a device.

Another warning sign would be skipping school regularly, whether they are currently meant to be attending school in person or online. And if you spot changes in their body language towards you, such as avoiding eye contact, this could be a sign. Having a much older boyfriend or girlfriend can also be a red flag.

Another area to watch out for is signs of drug and/or alcohol use; you may notice that your child seems tired, behaves erratically or appears malnourished.

If you do notice one or some of these signs, try not to panic, as the chances are they won’t indicate online grooming, but you can contact us at Hope for Justice for information and advice on

 If you believe your child is in immediate danger, call 911 or contact your local police or sheriff’s department first.

Thank you for reading, and let’s all stay safe online in 2021 and beyond.