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Teaching students to recognise grooming

Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

The Sex Education Forum conducted a survey of more than 2,000 students, aged between 11 to 25 years. It was discovered that:

  • 50% of the respondents did not know how to get help if they were abused
  • 53% of the respondents could not recognise grooming for sexual exploitation
  • 44% were unaware about abusive relationships
  • 34% were clueless about sexual consent

This lack of knowledge was attributed to the gaps in their sex and relationships education in schools. So, how can teachers bridge this gap and ensure the safety of their students?

Bridging the gap and empowering students

1. What is grooming?

The first step to help children recognise grooming is to define the term itself. For most people, including children, the word ‘grooming’ would be interpreted by its common meaning ‘the things that you do to make your appearance clean and neat, for example brushing your hair, or the things that you do to keep an animal’s hair or fur clean and neat.

However, it is essential for children to understand that this word has an alternative meaning. Our previous article defines online grooming as “… the process by which an adult with an inappropriate sexual interest in children will approach a child online to foster a relationship with the intent to meet them in person and intentionally cause harm.”

This can be a difficult subject to broach with children, therefore, the right balance of tact and honesty is extremely important.

Teachers need to educate children that groomers come in all forms and could be anyone – from a guiding figure in their lives to a stranger they meet online.

2. All it takes is a few tricks and some time

When teaching children about grooming, a related concept is the process groomers use to deceive them. Children should be taught that groomers will not be upfront about their intentions. Their manipulation is a gradual process. And this involves paying attention to that student, making them feel special. This is done by way of flattery, expensive gifts, and being sympathetic. These tactics make the child believe that no one else can understand them better than the groomer. The result is that they start trusting the groomer.

3. Sharing a few secrets…

Once this trust has been established, the groomers use a new tactic to influence and control their victims – secrecy. Children are fooled into believing that something valuable is being shared with them. In return, they are asked to share something of value with the groomer. Over time, the groomer develops an inappropriate relationship with the child, terming the conversations as their “special secret”.

Teaching children to differentiate between good secrets and bad secrets is therefore essential. A secret which makes them feel anxious, fearful or uncomfortable should not be kept from their parents or teachers.

Developing creative lesson plans to aid their understanding…

Teaching children about a sensitive topic like grooming can be tricky. Students need to be careful with everyone, but at the same time, you don’t want them to avoid developing trusting relationships with adults.

Lily Horton, from Loudmouth Education and Training, mentions an interesting class activity to discuss online grooming. You can ask your students to work together and create a realistic character.  Give the character attributes, behavioural tendencies, and a name. Once the character is developed, you can read passages from her diary, followed by an interactive question and answer session.

For example – “I’ve met this guy through Facebook and he is so cute! His name is Tom and he is 16. Though we haven’t met up yet, we have been messaging each other for weeks! My mates find this whole situation funny but I think we are really falling for each other!”

Later, you could ask questions such as:

  • What makes the character feel that she is falling for Tom?
  • Why do you think her friends find this ‘whole situation’ funny?
  • Do you think the character should meet Tom? Why/why not?

The next excerpt can be:

“I met Tom today. He was sweet and caring. But he lied about his age. Though I must say he made up for his mistake by giving me a very pretty and expensive necklace. He made our evening special and even dropped me home. I think I’ll excuse his lie. Excited to meet him again!”

You could then ask:

  • Do you think the girl should meet Tom again? Why/why not?
  • Should she be concerned that he lied about his age? Why/why not?

You can later continue by saying that she has fallen in love with him and they have started a relationship. She has stopped seeing her friends as Tom thinks they are a bad influence. He continues to buy expensive gifts for her and encourages her to push boundaries and try new things like drinking alcohol and watching pornography.

You can ask questions like:

  • Do you think their relationship is healthy? Why/why not?
  • What do you think the girl should do?

The latter aspects of the story can deal with how Tom has managed to isolate her completely from her friends, how he has started asking for sexual favours and coercing her into sexual activity online in return for his expensive gifts.

While using such lesson plans, you can summarise that this entire process is called grooming and that some signs can be spotted early on. Discussing such situations in the class will help students to better identify signs.

Students are now computer literate from an early age and need to be safeguarded while accessing online resources. Have you considered the benefits of installing cyber safety measures? Connect with us on Twitter and LinkedIn to know more!

The UK is seeing a rise in self-harm among students. So what can teachers do to tackle this?

Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

NHS figures published by The Guardian show that self-harm among students has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. There has been a steep rise in students under 18 being admitted to hospital for harming themselves.

The report further states that poisoning accounts for 88% of self-harming incidents, with figures rising from 9,741 in 2005-06 to 13,583 in 2015-2016 among girls and from 2,234 to 2,246 among boys.

Furthermore, an article in The Independent highlighted the results of a survey jointly conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Children’s Bureau. It revealed that nearly 79% of schools reported an upsurge of self-harming and suicidal tendencies among pupils.

In the face of such frightening statistics, how can teachers respond to self-harming incidents in a helpful and empowering manner?

1. Allow students to confide in you

When teachers suspect or identify that a pupil is self-harming, confronting them immediately is not the best way. They may refuse to accept your help or to acknowledge that they have such tendencies. It is better to foster an environment of trust where pupils will naturally come to you to talk about any issues they might be facing.

If students refuse to discuss their issues, the best you can do is let them know that you are there for them and offer them a chance to talk when they feel ready. Students who self-harm are more likely to confide in teachers who show sympathy and understanding and are not judgmental.

2. Informing parents

A student may not like the idea of teachers informing their parents. Though this decision should be respected, there are cases where teachers must involve parents. Such conversations are never easy, as it is very hard to tell parents that their child is harming themselves. By addressing parents directly, in a calm and thoughtful manner, free from accusations or criticism, this difficult situation can be managed in a sensitive way.

3. Create peer support groups

Young people will naturally confide in their peers more than in parents or teachers. The premise of a peer support scheme is that young people are qualitatively different from adults a generation or more apart from them. As teachers and parents, we imagine that we know the world that they live in, but discover that we cannot enter their experience any more than we can appreciate their music or fashion. There are issues and concerns that are common experience for young people, just as their experience of life in school, in the corridors, in the playground may be quite different from how the adults see it.

Peer Support provides an additional, largely informal, layer of help and support in the school. It is also about mental health – fostering the abilities and resilience of all, and preventing students’ coping abilities from being devastated by stresses in their environment. Peer support can also help them take advantage of their strengths and be compassionate toward themselves. Support groups can reverse self-destructive behaviours by identifying students’ weaknesses, capitalising on their strengths and improving their leadership skills.

4. Help them find new coping strategies

Self-harm may be a way for students to cope with emotional distress. However, teachers can help them find or develop alternative mechanisms for coping. Encourage students to respond differently when they feel like hurting themselves – maybe start a journal in which they express their feelings, make them write down their negative thoughts and then tell them to tear that paper up, or listen to calming music.

5. Make referrals

While teachers play an important role in ensuring student wellbeing, self-harming tendencies cannot be tackled by schools alone. Students should, in the first instance, be referred to a school counsellor if you have one. Depending on their assessment, they might then be referred to off-site professionals. This assessment takes into consideration the risk level of physical injury, suicide and the presence of any mental health disorder.

Research has found a direct link between self-harming behaviour and students’ use of the internet. And with an increased dependence on the internet, it is essential to implement cyber safety measures. If you would like to learn more about Peer Support or about cyber safety, get in touch with Securus today.

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