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How to talk to young children about grooming and catfishing

Something that parents often ask us is whether it is appropriate to talk to children as young as five or six about internet predators. For many it seems an unpalatable clash between the innocence of childhood and the disturbing nature of the darker side of the internet.

In answer, I always talk about my experiences as a speaker for the foundation. Over the years that I have been talking to children I have noticed more and more that children are aware of words such as catfishing at a younger age. A couple of years ago if I had asked a year 3 class (age 7/8) if anyone knew what catfishing was I might have occasionally come across someone. Nowadays I’m surprised if they don’t know the word.

What we have to do is reflect the world that the children are living in and give them the tools to navigate it. The internet is currently the wild west (hopefully the forthcoming Online Harms bill will address much of this) and if we expect them to deal with it all on their own, disasters will happen. It is far better to give a child a relatable and age-appropriate definition of a word so that they can remember and understand it, than to try to shield them from it until... when? When something has already happened? How does that help?

Words that primary children commonly use when I ask about people that they’ve come across online who have acted badly include swearing, scams and hacking. Many are aware that in certain games (such as Roblox and Animal Crossing) there are times when unscrupulous players offer trades for precious items that turn out to be tricks. It’s a good way to get the conversation started about being tricked online and how it feels, because this kind of in-game tricking is something many will have already experienced and have an opinion on.

If you are struggling to explain difficult concepts of online safety to children, the boxes below might help. Children can understand the word to a point that is appropriate for their age – they will gain more understanding as they get older, just as would apply to any subject.

For KS1:

Grooming: is when someone pretends to be your friend in order to trick you. Their trick might make you sad or hurt you.

Catfishing: is when someone creates a fake profile online, in order to trick you. The picture they use might not really be of them.

Sending photos and images: Sometimes strangers might ask us to send photos that show private parts of our bodies. We would never do this because our bodies are private. If someone asks you to do that you must always tell a trusted adult.

For KS2:

Grooming: when someone pretends to be your friend in order to trick you. They will try to persuade you to do something that’s not good for you.

Catfishing: is when someone creates a fake online profile in order to trick you. Their pictures, names and ages can all be fake. It can be very upsetting to be catfished and sometimes it can lead to dangerous situations.

Sending photos and images: We would never send an embarrassing or inappropriate photo or video of ourselves to a stranger, because we can never get it back if we change our mind. Sometimes these photos get shared around and that can make us very upset. People who ask for these photos are always wrong to do so and we should always report them to a trusted adult.

Sarah Smith

Foundation Speaker


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