Strangers online… or are they?

It’s crucial to have open, honest chats with young people about the people they meet online.

E-safety Training Child Game
A common message given to young people is: don’t speak to strangers online. This is primarily a safeguarding message; we recognise that strangers might pose risks and we want to protect our children from these.

But, what is a stranger to someone online?

The way that we interact with people online has changed, and for young people, a lot of this is due to online social gaming.

What is social gaming?

When I played games when I was younger, I’d either play by myself or have someone physically sitting next to me with a games controller. Nowadays, however, due to the speed of the Internet, we can play with others online and see what they’re doing in real-time; we call this social gaming. We can also chat to them via text or voice, adding to the experience and the immersion. We can choose to play games with our friends, but more and more games are encouraging players to play against people they don’t know… people we would refer to as ‘strangers’.

Why we need to change our terminology

Imagine the scenario: a child is playing an online game with a friend, and that friend invites one of his friends to play. Within a minute or two, the child may not perceive the new person as a stranger; they’ve become a new friend or acquaintance. It happened quickly, and as they were introduced by their friend, they’re more likely to be immediately trusted. We know that when people are online their behaviour changes and, in this scenario, due to the physical distance between players, the child would be more likely to engage in riskier behaviour (engaging with the ‘stranger’) than they would do in real life as their defences are lower.

We, therefore, may be better talking to children about ‘new people’ or ‘new players’ they meet online, rather than ‘strangers’.

The risks

It’s important that young people are made aware of the risks that meeting new people online can bring:

  • They may not be who they say they are and may be good at hiding their true identity;
  • They may be attempting to groom or harm by using emotional and/or persuasive strategies – this could involve trying to make video-chat arrangements;
  • They may be trying to arrange to meet in real-life;
  • They may be trying to find people online to bully.
  • Supporting young people

    It’s crucial to have open, honest chats with young people about the people they meet online. Our key messages to them should include:

  • The importance of thinking before acting, and approaching new people with a level of scepticism, even if they’re friends of friends;
  • The knowledge that it’s easy to pretend to be someone else online;
  • The importance of blocking and/or reporting anyone online who’s pretending to be someone else;
  • The importance of speaking to trusted adults about people online who are frightening them or asking them to do things which make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Further links:
    The Breck Foundation - (a story of someone who was groomed through gaming)

    Written by Matt Lovegrove on October 25, 2018 11:42


    Completely agree - children will often bond with others very quickly face-to-face at the start of a school year or when joining for an activity: online, once a connection is formed they don't think of x as a stranger - they've been competing with him/her winning and losing so feel a bond equally quickly....

    Posted: over 4 years by Phill

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