01/04/2015 17:05 BST | Updated 01/06/2015 10:12 BST

Keeping Boys Safe And Online Grooming

Young teenage boy online in his bedroom.

The other night I was out for a meal with some of my school mum friends, all of whom have daughters. They were anxiously discussing their fears about cyber grooming, worrying about how they could police their daughters against the threat of paedophiles who trawl the net looking for little girls to lure to their lairs.

I must admit that with four boys I sat back smugly. I thought that while my boys might not be totally safe online, they were certainly less obvious targets that my friends' pre-pubescent girls. I was probably more worried about them finding obnoxious porn online than actually getting involved with someone who wished them harm.

That's why the story of a 14-year-old boy Breck Bednar, who was murdered by a fellow teenage boy who he chatted to online is so chilling. Looking at the pictures of Breck's mother awkwardly cuddling her growing boy mirrors my own experience with my eldest son, who at 11 is starting to reach that stage where his friends are far more influential than this mum.

In fact, while mums of girls are right to be concerned, as 80 percent of incidents reported to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) were from girls, that doesn't mean that mothers of boys should be complacent. Boys are just as vulnerable and the lower reporting figures may be in part due to male pride.

'Boys may too embarrassed to admit that they have been duped online to report the incident' cautions Hannah Bickers from CEOP.

So perhaps it's no bad thing that parents of boys are shocked out of our complacency by the tragic case of Breck Bednar. For while girls might have their heads turned by someone posing as a handsome young boy who asks them to do inappropriate things, Breck was tempted by a dominant gamer who promised him riches from a new software product he claimed to be developing.

I'd love to think my boys would be smarter than to fall for this, but I really can't be sure. The screen really is king with young boys – particularly those who fall into the most vulnerable age groups between 11 – 16.

Most arguments in my house revolve around the contentious issue of 'screen time'. My sons would spend all day every day online if I allowed it, and just recently when my nine-year-old was off school and ill in bed as I walked in he slammed the lid of his laptop shut. When I asked why he revealed it was because rather than watching the DVD I had left him with he was playing a multi-player game online.

The problem is that in a generation where our children are virtually raised by screens, as parents our understanding of what's going on in the virtual world is non-existent.


When my boys were first born the worst thing I thought I would have to deal with was stashes of dirty magazines under their beds, now I know that what lurks under the cover of their iPads and laptops is far more dangerous.


Tips to keep boys safe:

1. Make children aware that people online lie and that no matter what someone tells them online they should not trust them.

2. Make is clear that they should not share personal details or meet up with a stranger they have met online in the real world, no matter how well they feel they know them.

3. Parents should educate themselves about the devices their children are using. Know which ones can access the internet and, where possible ensure that privacy settings and parental controls are activated.

4. If your boys are obsessed with gaming then get to know the games and sites your boys are using. It's worth getting to grips with how gaming communities work by playing the games yourself so you know how your child is interacting with other gamers. One friend with boys runs a whole online community for her sons and their friends to play safely online.

5. Even if you don't play games take an interest in their gaming life, in the same way as you would share an interest in a real world sport like football. Watch them play so you can keep communication open.

6. Make sure your child knows they can block other users or report abuse to the moderators of most gaming forums.

7. Make it very clear that if your son is concerned about contact from others online he should talk to you or another trusted adult. Ensure he is clear there is no shame in being approached in an inappropriate way and that it is important that he tell someone about it.

For lots more age appropriate advice on keeping both boys and girls safe online visit CEOP's Think U Know website which has advice for children, parents and teachers.

Another useful site is Parents Protect, which has a helpline and lots of advice for parents on how to keep them safe.