A dad who had taken steps to protect his eight-year-old daughter when she played online games, was shocked to discover she had been speaking to a stranger for six months.
Tony Cherrington says he now knows that it is vital to talk to children about online dangers, after he learned his daughter was being groomed via an online video game called Roblox, which describes itself as “the #1 gaming site for kids and teens”.
“We gave our daughter a tablet with confidence that I had locked it down so that nothing inappropriate could happen. I could control the router and see what was going in and out, and we had a firewall in place. We were fairly well protected.
“One particular night when I was putting her into bed, I picked up her tablet and I suddenly realised that one of the characters was talking to her by message.
“When I asked who that was, she just replied, ‘That’s my friend, Daddy’. So I asked if that was a character in the game, or one of her friends from school. She said, ‘I don’t know, Daddy’.”
Cherrington continued: “We started talking, and once my alarm had been raised, I started digging into the history. It turns out she had actually been talking to this guy for nearly six months.”
After looking at his daughter’s conversation history Cherrington discovered the stranger was a man in his thirties, who had a particular interest in how old his daughter was and whether she was at school. He said there were nothing sexual or untoward, but that it was “inappropriate”.
In response to Cherrington’s experience a Roblox spokesperson said “providing a safe environment for our users is our utmost priority”. “All games must comply with our Rules of Conduct,” they continued. “Parental involvement is critical to a fun and safe experience. To that end, we have created extensive parental
Cherrington spoke to HuffPost UK after the NSPCC released figures earlier this week showing there have been more than 3,000 recorded cases of “sexual communications with a child” in the first year since a new law enabled the police to charge adults with this crime - with children as young as five being targeted by adults.
According to the NSPCC research, which it collated by sending Freedom of Information requests to police forces, 7% of children aged 11-16 had shared a naked or semi-naked image of themselves online.
Cherrington said the man talking to his daughter had asked her for a photo, but she had not sent him one, and that he didn’t report the incident to police as he didn’t think it was a criminal offence because the communication was not sexual.
“I’m not surprised [by the NSPCC figures] I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg - we didn’t report it so how many other people is this happening to?” he said.
[READ MORE: How To Keep Kids Safe Online]
Cherrington said he now takes a different approach to protecting his daughter online - one which proactively involves her. He would advise other parents to talk to their children about online safety and teach them how important it is to tell their parents about anyone who tries to communicate with them.
“It’s very, very important to engage - you have got to talk to your children - it’s something you can’t pay lip service to,” he said.