These people don’t usually try to hide who they are or what they’re interested in: instead, they find somebody they think is vulnerable and shower them with attention and compliments.
It’s normal to be flattered or even excited when someone new pays attention to you, but remember that romantic relationships between teens and adults are never a good idea.
People you meet online also aren’t a great resource for learning about healthy sexuality! There are great expert resources available you should use instead, like Sexandu.ca or About Sex.
When you’re talking to someone online, watch out for signs that they’re grooming you for a sexual relationship:
excessively flattering you, especially about how you look
suggesting that you move the conversation to private messaging or to a private online space
asking about times and places where you could meet or could communicate online in private
introducing sex or sexual topics into the conversation
sharing or offering to share sexual images, either pornography or pictures of themselves (you can’t share images in private messages on Wattpad, but someone might share them another way)
asking you not to tell your parents or friends about a conversation or about the relationship
If any of those happen, make up an excuse to get out of the conversation and tell your parents or another adult that you trust right away. Then use the Mute User function or Block User function to keep them from contacting you and Report the user to the administrators. If they sent you inappropriate messages or images, or threatened you in any way, you should save copies in case you need them later. The BC Society of Transition Houses’ Preserving Digital Evidence Toolkit has good tips on how to do that.
Never meet up with someone you’ve met online without telling your parents first. (If you’re not living with your parents, tell a friend who can come with you, or another adult you trust.) Make sure to arrange to meet them in a public place that you can leave easily if you need to. Trust your instincts: if you don’t feel comfortable for any reason, leave.
Facts about unhealthy online relationships:
According to a national U.S. study, just over half of girls report being victims of an abusive online or offline relationship. The same study found that 42% of boys are victims of abusive relationships as well.
Most of the time, people who exploit teens online don’t pretend to be anyone they’re not, and they don’t hide what they’re doing. A lot of the time they are not “strangers” but people you already know offline who use digital tools to contact you privately. (But don’t assume that people really are who they say they are, unless you know them offline! If you find out someone is lying about their identity, cut off contact right away, mute them or block them and report them to the administrators.)
People who exploit teens don’t always want to meet in person. Sometimes their goal is to get you to send them a sexual or embarrassing photo or video – or even embarrassing texts – which they can then use to blackmail you.
Not all abusive relationships are violent. Things like scaring someone, making them feel badly all the time, cutting them off from their friends and family, humiliating them by exposing private or sexual material, or keeping tabs on them all the time are still abuse.
At the beginning of an abusive relationship, a lot of abusers will ask their victim to give them things like their passwords or sexual photos to show that they love and trust them. These are the same things they’ll use to control or punish their victims later.
Sharing photos and videos
If you’re thinking about sharing sexual photos or videos with anyone online, you should know that they might make a copy and could share it later. But remember that nothing you have done ever gives someone the right to abuse you, even if you did send them a photo or video or gave them your password. It’s also important to know that you won’t get in legal trouble if you seek help: governments and police in both Canada and the United States are clear that if someone is sharing sexual photos or videos you sent them, or using them to blackmail you, “you are not the one who is breaking the law.”
If someone does share a sexual photo or video of you, or just an embarrassing one, check out the MediaSmarts tip sheet Help! Someone Shared an Image of Me Without My Consent.