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What is grooming in regard to how an internet predator works?

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The concept of "grooming" in the sexual abuse of children or teens involves a fairly sequential routine that sexual predators use to gain the trust of a child or young teenager. The concept and term were both labeled by therapists and child welfare workers who observed very similar processes abusers had used, as described by most abused children.

It's important to note that the concept of grooming was first described about how abusers / molesters approached a child in real life (prior to Internet technology) and how abusers take deliberate steps toward committing the abuse acts. When the Internet became popular, abusers/predators soon began using the computer as a tool to lure children and teens.

NOTE: The following information is given in an order-- BUT any act can occur at any point. A molester does not strictly follow a set order of steps, although some steps always occur before other steps. I've added numbers only to give some "order" to what happens, generally.

The grooming process begins as a seemingly "innocent" contact, often at a place where children go such as parks, camps, church groups, etc. or even by identifying an unsupervised child.

On the Internet, this step means finding kids in chat rooms, social media sites, etc. Of importance, even though children younger than 13-years old think they are very clever to be able to sign on to websites that require "age 13 and over", it is usually very obvious by how young pre-teens write and "talk" that the person IS younger.


Predators look for children who are "needy"... meaning, there's something lacking in the child's life. Maybe both parents work so the child is alone after school. Maybe the child has only one parent in the home. Maybe the child walks to school alone or in a group. Sometimes the child is poor. Often, the child has lower self esteem. You could describe the child as needing attention, love, interaction. NOTE: A parent may love their children deeply but a child may not feel it inside, in their heart and soul. It's important to note that neither the child or the parent is wrong or bad--- the predator is the one who does wrong.


The predator must gain a child's trust. When you think about who you consider "friends" in school, you'll notice that you rarely make friends with someone you dislike or distrust. Instead, the kids who are your friends are people you like, trust, and feel good around. It's the same thing with predators-- a predator tries to find ways to be "your friend" and make you trust and like them.

Often, the predator uses a "lure". A lure is similar to the idea of putting bait (the lure) on a fishing line to attract a fish to bite-- when talking about predators, the lure is something that the predator thinks the child will respond to and make the child interact. (Example: "Hey, will you help me? I was walking my puppy and he ran off-- can you help me look for him?" Example: The old trick of offering a kid candy. Example: Offering a ride.)

NOTE: The kind of "lure" varies so drastically that no one can list every possible lure used in grooming. So kids must always remember that (1) talking to someone you don't know may not be safe and (2) that even with family or extended family members, kids must recognize when they have the feeling that "something" is wrong. If a child thinks he or she must keep a new "friend" a secret from his/her parents, or a child knows his parents would not approve... the kid should step back and go talk to your parent about the situation.

Often, predators combine giving and being "nice" enough to give something -- along with other lures. For example, once a predator gains some trust, and the kid is sharing information about his/her family, school problems, teacher problems, and the child's wants/dreams, the predator can now turn those things around to use against the child. For example, in the "gain trust" phase, the predator asks questions about the kid's family. The kid might tell an incident about a fight he had with his parent. Maybe the kid wanted a video game and the parent had said no. Well, the predator files that information away to use (either right away or later). At some point, the predator says "Hey I have a surprise for you!" and gives the child the item that the child had really wanted. Now, the kid (and the predator) KNOWS his parents wouldn't want him to have it-- but, oh, he wants it so bad. The predator uses this conflict to remind the child, "Now I gave this to you because I like you... But it's just our secret... You know your mom would make you give it back if she knew you have it." The predator just created a "Big Secret" with the child. Secrets are an important part for the predator during grooming. If a predator can make a child keep a secret that only they know together, then the predator KNOWS the kid will likely not tell when sexual molestation occurs!! This is why Public Service Messages on television tell kids "Just Tell Someone". If an adult gives a child ANY gift, it should never, ever be a secret.

This stage can occur on the Internet too! It just depends on what information the Predator can get from the child-- and whether the adult can give a "wanted item".

IMPORTANT-- Sometimes the only "thing" given to a child or teen is not a gift. It's more important emotionally than a present--- and the thing is attention, praise, encouragement, flattery. "Oh I bet you're very pretty! Whoever that girl is at school who called you ugly must be crazy!" When the child still says, no, she IS ugly--- the predator might say, "Well you let me judge that and you know I'll tell you the truth. You can always trust me to tell you the truth!. This is where a predator might convince the girl to turn on a web cam, or take a cell phone photo of herself and send it to him by email, or to meet him (but usually one of the first two to begin). IF a predator convinces a child/teen to share a photo/image, the potential for abuse to occur just jumped to a very high danger! NO child/teen should ever take photos, use a web cam (the predator can record on his side), or send any photos to anyone outside of family. Boys/guys can also be given attention or flattery that leads to them being abused.

The "steps" or process goes on ... There may be many small steps to entice or lure a child--- or a few bigger steps. Once a predator has a child sharing personal information, sharing "secrets" together that the child isn't supposed to tell, has the child sharing photos or live images, or gets the child to tell the name / address / phone number, it's very very probable the next steps the predator takes will be to meet the child away from the child's home and parents. The risk at this point is extremely high that the child WILL be molested or abused.

As you can see, it is not easy sometimes to recognize who might be a friend or an enemy. Who is safe-- who is dangerous! It's sad that adults have to teach kids today that even a seemingly innocent conversation may NOT be innocent.

On the Internet, the risks are much, much worse! Anyone can pretend to be any age. A 56 year old man can pretend to be a 14 year old girl, simply chatting and "sharing" with a 13-year old in a chat room. Even though kids hate parents supervising their time online, it is a measure parents use to try to keep their kids safe.

So, to re-cap:
1. "grooming" is a process; it can take as little as a few days, or as long as some months
2. predators try to learn information about a child while also trying different "lures"
3. if a child/teen interacts even ONE time, there's a high chance the predator will keep trying more lures
4. "lures" are typically something that all children would like-- or something a child revealed / said
5. Lures increase (escalate) and the predator will keep trying until he either has the child's image / photo, or can meet the child in person.
6. The ONLY way to stop predatory behaviors from happening to you is to TELL, don't keep secrets from parents, and be careful about what you share. Never, ever agree to meet someone or send them images/photos.

There's more to this topic... but this is a general overview of grooming, what it is, and how it occurs.
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