With millions of parents expected to make electronic purchases for their children this Christmas season, a leading children's charity has put out a warning that children who use internet-enabled toys could be at risk of being subjected to online grooming.
Data released from the NSPCC show a significant rise in cases. In 2014-15, Childline completed 378 counseling sessions on the issue, a 42% increase from the previous year.
Children who made use of the service said they felt trapped after they had been asked to perform sexual acts on webcams, send explicit images or even meet in person.
Experts say predators lurk on social networks and online gaming platforms. Many times they create profiles that make them appear to be around the same age as their victims. Girls were found to be more likely to fall for the tactics, accounting for 7 out of 10 of the contacts on Childline. Those who called into the service were as young as 9 years old.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said parents need to take precautions this Christmas season, as millions of children are set to receive internet-enabled devices such as gaming consoles and smartphones. He said even asking what sites, apps and games children use is a good way to start the conversation with your children.
In addition to talking, the NSPCC suggests that parents ask their children to show them what they do online and to take an interest in their activity. The organization suggests parents become "friends" with their children on social media in order to keep an eye on who they are talking to. Rules should be set concerning what websites they can visit and how long they can be online, ensuring that their activities are age-appropriate, and using parental controls when needed.
Pedophiles have long made use of the internet. However, that threat has increased in recent years as more young people begin to own and operate internet-enabled technology, and social media usage continues to rise, writes Hayden Smith for The Mirror.
The mother of an online grooming victim said: "A few years ago I thought that I knew everything about online technology. I used to use social media and chat rooms regularly.
"But things change so quickly and now I don't know that much and wouldn't know where to start with giving advice to my children on it.
"I was a strict mum anyway when it came to my girls going online but I'm even more strict now and make sure none of them have passwords on their phones."
Police watchdogs in the UK have been pushing for call handlers to receive better training ever since last month when it was discovered that a mother of a young boy who was killed did not receive the support she was looking for when she called the center with concerns that he was being groomed online.
Computer engineer Lewis Daynes received a life sentence with no opportunity for parole for the first 25 years after he was found guilty for the murder of Breck Bednar, 14, from Caterham, Surrey. The young boy had been found murdered at an apartment in Grays, Essex the previous year.