As parents in a technology-heavy world, we're familiar with terms like sexting and cyber bullying. But there is now something new we need to be aware of as well: grooming.

What is grooming?

Grooming is when an adult pretending to be a child or teen online becomes friends with another child or teen in order to ask for sexual or erotic images. This occurs through social networks, chats, email, mobile phones and webcams.

Although this starts in cyberspace, it unfortunately can transcend the "real" world and turn children into victims of trafficking and prostitution, child pornography or other types of abuse.

Recruiting minors for sexual purposes may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months, depending on the goals of the offender, as well as the reactions of the child, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

The United Nations (UN) estimates that about 1.2 million children and adolescents are trafficked worldwide each year.

Some criminals have up to 200 conversations at a time with minors through chats, social networking or instant messaging, according to the UN.

The techniques used by these criminals are very seductive. They engage victims in such a way that they become friends, give them confidence, and know all about their problems and the things they like. Eventually predators get them to provide personal data; They get everything necessary to stay close to the children and achieve their goal.

Once they have ensnared a child, the harassment begins. The predator threatens to hurt the family or publish images that have been sent as they increasingly seek for pornographic material. Sometimes they even physically meet the minor to sexually abuse him or her.

What can you do to prevent this from happening to your children?

1. Stay informed

The first step to prevent grooming is to be informed, because the risks are great. It is essential to spread information on this topic starting with those around us — children, nephews, schoolmates and teachers.

2. Talk with your kids

These days, you can't keep your kids away from social media or technology. The Internet is everywhere. But you CAN explain what grooming is and its consequences. Make sure they know they should never share personal photos or videos online, as well as give some the ability to access these photos or turn on the webcam to undress.

3. Help your children to take care of themselves

Teach your children how to watch out for themselves on the Internet. They should know not to chat with strangers on social networks, or provide personal information, like names of parents and family members, the school they attend, if they have brothers and sisters, an address or phone numbers.

4. Listen to your children and report if necessary

It is very important that children feel comfortable enough to speak up if something like this happens to them. If the situation arises, do not blame your children. Trust what your child tells you and file a complaint through the cyber police or the other authorities immediately.

Children form self-esteem at home. You help them develop this by talking to them, providing quality time, and trusting, respecting and loving them. It's only then that you can give them necessary tools to help protect themselves and not fall into the hands of unscrupulous people. Every adult can become a protector who cares for and monitors the healthy development of children.

This is a translated version of, "Cuidemos a nuestros ninos del 'grooming', el Nuevo peligro en la red," which was originally translated on

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