As parents and carers, we all want to do the best we can to protect our children while giving them the freedom they need to develop towards adulthood. The chances of your child being harmed by an adult are very small, but there are steps you can take to protect them.
It’s normal for young people to want to become more independent, challenge their parents, push boundaries and try out behaviours in places and situations they feel comfortable in and with people they trust. This might make it more difficult to spot the danger signs.
You should, therefore, watch out for signs that might indicate that a young person is troubled about something such as unusual or extreme behaviours such as mood swings, taking risks, using drugs and alcohol, problems sleeping and/or nightmares, missing school or poor school work.
Abuse can take many forms, be cautious of the following:
- If someone is getting to know the young person by, perhaps, buying them presents, taking them for days out, or giving them money to gain their trust. they may be grooming them
- People who try to make friends with you to get close to your child - single parents might be more vulnerable to this
Abusers can be in the same age group. They are often thought of as adults, and mostly they are, however there have been cases of the groomer being in the same peer group
The best thing you can do is give them confidence and self-belief by making them feel loved and valued.
Teach them about stranger danger
- Be cautious if an adult acquaintance seems to be more interested in your child than you, for example, if they want to babysit or take your child out alone
- Young people rarely lie about abuse so let them know you’re always there for them and will believe what they tell you
- Give them a curfew and emphasise how important it is that you know where they are at all times
- Make sure they aren't alone when they go out
- Try to get to know their friends
- Teach them that it's safer to hang around in groups
- Encourage them to walk to and from school with friends
- Teach them to ignore strangers who talk to them
- Tell them they must never get into a car with someone they don't know
Educate your child about their body from an early age
- Let them know their body is their own. Tell them which parts are private and shouldn’t be touched by anybody
- Sex education should start early so young people understand what is appropriate and what isn’t. Young people who are abused often don't understand what is happening to them
- Tell them that if an adult makes them feel uncomfortable or afraid, they should get away from that person immediately and then come and tell you
Protect your child online
- Talk to them about the dangers of chat rooms and social networking sites
- Don't panic and ban them from using the internet altogether or they won't learn how to use it safely
- Take an interest in what they do online, and keep an eye out for changes in their online behaviour, for example, if they suddenly spend much longer online, or try to hide what they're doing
- Tell them never to give out personal details such as their real name, address or phone number and rehearse how they should act if asked
- Always have your family computer in a room where you can see what they're doing
- Be careful of them making any friends on the internet and never let them meet up with them without an adult
If you’re concerned that your child is the victim of abuse, or that they might be involved in the abuse of another young person, it’s vital that you take immediate action.
Call the NSPCC child protection helpline on 0808 800 5000 to talk about your concerns. If your child or a young person you know is abused, call the police immediately.
You can also contact your local authority children’s services department: