The other night I sat down with my two oldest daughters, Betty aged 11 and Gina aged 10, and we watched Kayleigh's Love Story and I also plan to discuss this with 13-year-old Robbie and in a toned down way to 7-year-old Clare.
Kayleigh's Love Story is a chilling film about a Leicestershire schoolgirl who was groomed online before being raped and murdered. The five-minute film was made by Leicestershire Police to warn of the dangers of grooming and sexual exploitation. It tells the true story of 15-year-old Kayleigh Haywood who began speaking to Luke Harlow, a man she had never met, on 31st October 2015. Over the course of 13 days, they exchanged 2,643 messages and Harlow told Kayleigh all the things many teenage girls want to hear, he told her she was beautiful and how much he cared for her and how special she was. Harlow was grooming Kayleigh, along with two other girls he had also been speaking to, but it was Kayleigh who finally agreed to spend the night at his house. She spent all night on the 13th November, as well as the next day. In the early hours of Sunday the 15th November, having been held against her will by Harlow and his next door neighbour, Stephen Beadman, Kayleigh was raped and murdered by Beadman
Kayleigh's Love Story is a warning to children and young adults, both girls and boys, about the dangers of speaking to people they don't know online and highlight how quick and easy it can be for children to be groomed online without them or those around them knowing it is happening.
My children don't have any social media accounts at the moment, (Robbie did but he is currently banned from it because of his behaviour. Betty has asked for it but I am reluctant to allow her at the moment), but they do play online games such as Minecraft and Roblox. Both Minecraft and Roblox, along with other social games like Club Penguin and many, many more, also have the potential to be abused. Children create accounts and add friends and even chat online with their new friends, assuming that these friends are also children, but like with any other online account, no one knows who they are really talking to or what they are saying.
So after watching Kayleigh's Love Story, Betty, Gina and I began talking about what they could do to stay safe online and we came up with some rules which they have to obey in order to be allowed online.
- I have to know all their passwords and I have the right to check their accounts whenever I want to
- They are not allowed to add anyone that they don't know in real life on Roblox or Minecraft (or any other social media accounts or games). If someone tries to add them and they think they know them, they need to ask them questions to prove that they are who they think they are and that they do actually know them.
- They are not to private chat, video message or skype with anyone they are not friends with and they don't know in real life.
- They are never to arrange to meet in real life with anyone they met online
- Not to share their mobile phone numbers or email address with anyone they don't know in real life.
- They are not to share any personal details such as their real names (I even use alias' on this site to protect their identities), their ages, where they live and where they go to school, email addresses or phone numbers on any posts, profiles or chats.
- If they post any pictures, they are to make sure they don't show anything which could identify them or where they are, such as school uniforms or sports club kits or backgrounds which include signs or buildings which are easily identifiable. Also to switch their phone's location off when taking pictures so that the pictures don't display the GPS location of where the photo was taken.
- To never post or text any picture and/or message that they wouldn't be happy to show me or their dad.
- Most importantly, if they have any messages, emails or texts which ask them to break the rules or makes them uncomfortable, upset or scared in any way, then they are to show them to me immediately and not to delete them hoping it will go away.
Children are at risk in a way that we never were growing up. When we were children we could close the door and shut the outside world out, but now the world follows us indoors thanks to phones and computers. Cyber-bullying is on the increase as is grooming and sexting and we need to help empower our children with knowledge to help them make the right choices and avoid getting tricked into these traps.
It is vital that children and young adults understand the importance of staying safe online. It is also important that adults learn to spot the signs that may indicate their child is being groomed, abused or bullied.
But what is online grooming? The phrase refers to the deliberate actions taken by an adult to form a trusting relationship with a child with the intent of later engaging in sexual contact. Sexual explicit messages, images and videos may be exchanged and the offender may entice the child by sending them gifts, game items or money. Grooming can take place in chat rooms, through instant messaging, social networking sites, email and online games. Offenders will contact dozens of young people, communication will quickly become sexually explicit and any positive response will be seized on. The grooming process can take a matter of hours or years and boys are just as vulnerable as girls.
This is why it is important that we, as parents, understand the risks associated with our child/ren being online, how can we teach them to be safe if we don't understand the risks ourselves? We need to talk to our child/ren about these potential risks and to teach them how to be safe online. We shouldn't assume that school will teach our children, we need to teach them ourselves as well to ensure they get the message.