LAUNCHED! Decoding Your Child Book

The months of writing and editing Decoding Your Child finally came to fruition with a successful book launch on Apr 8, 2018.

So many friends came to support the launch. We even had a young couple who saw the event advertisement online and turned up. They are not even parents yet! How wonderful it is for young couples to learn ahead what parenting entails. I am sure this young couple will be well equipped with parenting skills and know-how when they become parents.

The idea of being prepared for parenting is so critical to the success of our children. When we are prepared, our parenting journey becomes smoother.  Not only that, when our parenting journey is smooth, everything tends to flow more easily. Why? Because when we encounter problems with our children, our lives suffer, our relationship with our spouse suffers, our relationships with our parents and our parents-in-law also suffer. Parenting challenges affect our productivity and effectiveness at work too.

There is a Confucian saying, “Tidy up the family. Rule the country. Conquer the world.” In other words, to do great work, our family unit needs to be first taken care of. When our foundation is stable and strong, we can build “empires”. Hence, parenting is critical to our success.

Why Decode Our Children?

To parent successfully, and for everything in our lives to flow more smoothly, we need to decode our children. Why?

With decoding, there is understanding.
With understanding, there is empathy.
With empathy, there is acceptance.
With acceptance, there is patience.
With patience, there is tenderness.
With tenderness, there is connection.

And when there is connection…
…MAGIC happens.

When there is connection, there is cooperation.
When there is cooperation, there are less disciplinary issues.
When there are less disciplinary issues, parenting becomes a breeze.
When parenting becomes a breeze, life becomes easier
When life becomes easier, everyone is happier.

That’s when everyone is transformed.

And it all starts with DECODING YOUR CHILD.

Deepest Gratitude

I have so many people to thank for this successful launch.

Firstly, I must thank my family, without whom I will not even have a book to write. Juay has been my foundation, offering unwavering support and encouragement, doing everything needed to get the books printed and the venue all set up. My three children have done superbly as well. My teens helped man the various stations during the launch, registering guests and entertaining the children who were present at the launch. And my little one occupied herself and never once interrupted my talk and Q&A session. Thank you, darlings, for being the wind beneath my wings.

Next, I want to thank my sister Wendy Kwek. She is my mentor and sounding board for practically everything. She too worked hard behind the scene to help ensure the books turned out nicely and that the launch was a success. Thank you, jie, for always thinking about how to support my work and for covering my blindspots.

I also want to say big “Thank You” to my extended family who turned up for the book launch. Thank you, Michael and Susan Lau for the beautiful flowers. Thank you, Maureen Tan for your yummilicious cake. Thank you Angela Lau, Andrea Lau, Nicole Tan and Noah Tan for your purchases! It’s so heartwarming to be enveloped in your love and support during this milestone of my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

My deepest appreciation to many friends who chipped in to help: Patrick Koh for helping to find lost sheep and ushering them to the venue, Willie Yeo for helping with photography, Uantchern for the use of his cosy venue, and many many more who helped out but I was too distracted sharing with the guests and signing books to thank you individually. Thank you all for being such wonderful angels! 😛

The launch would definitely have not succeeded if not for ALL THE GUESTS who took the time on a Sunday afternoon to be there. So thank you, thank you, thank you, to each and everyone of you who were there! I was not expecting a full house turnout on a precious Sunday afternoon, but you guys came!! Thank you!!

Last but not least, my biggest THANK YOU goes to my mom, Doris Lau. How I wish she could be here to witness the book launch. She was the first person to ever ask me write a book years ago when I was sending her monthly journals of my parenting journey because we were living overseas. Mommy, I know you can see me from the heavens and I can feel your love. I love you and I miss you so much! Thank you for always believing in me.


Those of you who missed the Book Launch, fret not. The book is available for sale online. For a limited time, you can get yours at a special Book Launch SALE price.

Use the coupon code: BookLaunch2018. The coupon code expires on 16 Apr 2018 (UTC: +8:00)

Seize the opportunity!  Get your copy here:

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Internet Safety for Kids (Part 2) ~ Prying My Daughter From The Groomer’s Grasp

In my previous post, I shared the 12 signs of online grooming to help parents teach their children what to look out for in their online interactions in case they are targeted by groomers.

KNOWING about the problem or being able to IDENTIFY the problem is decidedly different from DEALING with it.

How do I tell my daughter her new BFF is a villain? How do I do it in such a way she will not see me as the enemy, considering how much her BFF has poisoned her against me? How do I SOLVE the problem, instead of just removing the manifestations of the problem?

I followed my heart and chose the path of love and empathy.

And it worked.

So what did I do?

1) Keep Cool

When I found my daughter behaving strangely and showing reluctance in surrendering her phone for me to check, I knew in my gut something was wrong. It took great restraint for me to ask for her phone calmly and empathetically. Not as a demand, nor as an accusation, just as-a-matter-of-factly. It was not the first time I had checked the kids’ devices and it would not be the last. To my girl’s credit, she surrendered her phone cooperatively. Definitely with reluctance and apprehension, but she handed it to me nonetheless.

Why not just accuse her?
It would have been so easy to throw accusations like, “What’s wrong? You MUST be hiding something.”

However, such accusations are really counterproductive. I mean, the fact I had felt the need to check carried the assumption that I thought something was up. I did not see the need to rub it in because that would only serve to fracture our relationship.

I knew that if something was really up, a fractured relationship was the last thing I needed. It was clear she would be less inclined to listen to my guidance if her heart were disconnected from mine.

Hence, I worked hard to keep my tone non-accusatory.

How did I keep cool?
Keeping the focus of wanting to help her listen to me and cooperate with me helped me maintain my cool.

Every time an accusation was at the tip of my tongue, I had to bite it back. Yes, I do struggle with being nice and non-accusatory. But I was very conscious that I needed to keep our communication link open. And to do that, it was critical I removed anything that would close her heart to me.

2) Be Compassionate

When a cursory look through the messages confirmed my fears, I asked my daughter how she got to know X. She explained that she knew X from the live chats on Minecraft and apologised for breaking my “no live chat” rule. Upon further gentle probing, “gentle” being the operative word here, I found that she did not know X was an adult until they had moved to the private chat. “She’s a really nice lady, mom,” my girl had said.

I wanted to yell, “She’s a groomer for crying out loud!! She’s ‘nice’ so she can hook you!!!”

Fortunately, I held steadfast to my resolve to respond with love and empathy.

“Are you going to ban me from Minecraft, mom?” my girl asked.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied, and she looked crushed.

Not really knowing how to respond, I just hugged my precious princess tightly and told her, “I am not angry with you. I need to read through all the messages and we’ll decide how to proceed from here.”

My daughter nodded her head and I left to continue looking through the messages. When she saw me struggling to trace back to earlier messages, she helped me use the search function to leapfrog all the way to the beginning of their chat history. It was a great sign because it meant she was being cooperative, that she was open to me digging deeper. There was hope!

Why did I not blame her?
I knew she should know better. But I also knew she was a teenager and that most times, she would NOT know better. Yes, she messed up, but she’s just a teen with a partially developed logical brain. I know how human brains develop and how that affects what our teens can or cannot do. So I can’t blame her for what her brain has not developed to do.

If there were blame to be assigned, it would be to the adults in the picture. X definitely bears some responsibility. If X had an ulterior motive like I suspected, then all the more she was responsible. Even if she did not have ulterior motive, then as a responsible adult, she should not have asked my girl to private chat with her. That’s rule number one in child safety: Do not engage in one-to-one conversation in private with a child we do not know. So yes, X could be blamed.

It would have been easy to just stop there and blame only X. But if I dig deeper, I know I bear the bulk of the blame. I have not kept a close enough eye on my daughter’s online interactions. I have not been very involved in her day-to-day life. I have allowed my girl feel neglected enough to turn to someone else for love and empathy. I have not given her enough attention.

I am responsible for what had happened. Period.

How did I remain compassionate and not blame her?
Being aware that my daughter was not the cause of the problem helped me not lay the blame on her.

I understood that her going online for love and support was but a manifestation of a problem. The actual cause of the problem was that she wasn’t feeling enough love or getting enough support from me. Banning her from Minecraft, or her phone, or her internet accesss, would only deal with the “symptom”. But it would not take care of the root cause. I knew that if the root cause were not addressed, the manifestation of the problem where she went searching for love and empathy elsewhere would resurface.

Hence, I felt I compelled to be compassionate. How could I blame a victim?  Blaming her, while convenient, would distract me from the root cause.

3) Make An Effort To Praise

It took me 14 hours to plough through all the messages and take screen shots of conversations where X was “working her magic”. That meant that for 14 hours, my daughter would not know the verdict of my investigation.

However, I was mindful of what she was doing during that period of time. When she played with her little sister, I praised her for the interaction. Having seen how X attacked my little one in the chats and made her to be a rotten spoilt brat, I was so grateful my girl was willing to interact with her sister. I could see she was a lot more patient and loving in the interaction as well. Hence I spotlighted that for my girl so she knew I noticed what she was doing despite having my head immersed in the investigation.

So yes, I praised her for the little things she did.

Praise? Why not just let her worry about the consequences?
I was not interested in playing mind games. She had been played enough by X. I did not want to keep my girl on the edge of her seat, waiting for the guillotine to fall. Of course I was not going to chop off her head, but I knew that was what it must have felt like for her.

If I had just ignored her and let her tremble with uncertainty, what good would that serve? It would be neither loving nor empathetic. Some may think letting her cower will ensure she will remember the lesson better. Maybe. But that is not how I would like her to remember the lesson. I do not want her to remember to “behave” out of fear because, one day, I may not be around to instill that “fear”, then what? Or when she’s all grown up and doesn’t fear me any more, then what? Who or what will keep her in line? No, fear-based discipline does not last.

Instead, what I wanted to achieve from teaching this lesson was for her to understand that her mistake did not define her, nor would it stop me from loving her. I wanted her to know that everyone makes mistakes. More importantly, I wanted her to know that the best thing about making mistakes is that we get to learn from them so we will NEVER (as far as possible) make the same mistakes again. That was why I took the effort to praise her and spotlight what she was doing well, even as I was going through the “crime scene”.  I wanted her to know I still love her.

How did I still manage to look for something positive?
Knowing that there is something beautiful and positive in my daughter despite her mistake helped me look for that something positive.

After all, she is not THE mistake. More importantly, not EVERYTHING she does is a mistake. She just happened to have made a mistake, that is all.

I am aware that the more we look for positive behaviour in our children and reinforce those with affirmation and praises, the more our children will live up to our expectations. But if we keep nitpicking on their mistakes and misbehaviour, they would lose heart and stop wanting to become better because we never noticed their improvements anyway. I much prefer to ride the upward spiral rather than the downward one.

And now, as I look back at the past few days since the discovery, I have been swarmed with messages of love and encouragement from friends, and even strangers. I am conscious that everyone knows I have messed up as a parent, that I have made the mistake of neglecting my daughter, but no one has dragged me over the coals for it. For that I am grateful and motivated to be an even better parent.

Positive emotions like love, encouragement and empathy inspire corrective action more effectively than fear-based emotions. That is what motivated me to look for something positive to say to my girl.

4) Explain Patiently

Once I finished ploughing through the 6 weeks worth of constant messaging, I had a clear idea of what went on and what was communicated (in writing). I had also taken a zillion screenshots of the signs I had flagged on online grooming. Now I had the information to go talk to my daughter. But I was not emotionally ready to do so.

I took a moment to calm myself because, honestly, I was beyond flustered. I really had to suppress the urge to scream, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING??!!” (Yes, unfortunately, I still do have urges like that.) But that would not help the situation.

How was I supposed to share what I have learned with my daughter? How should I do it in such a way she would really GET it, and more importantly, REMEMBER it?

Again, I meditated on love and empathy, and took a deep, deep breath.

Finally, I felt ready.

And that began our 3-hour debrief of the messages (and we only managed to cover ¾ of them). As we went through screenshot after screenshot, we read what X said, and I decoded it for my daughter in “groom-speak”. After a while, I did not even need to decode what X had said. My daughter would just exclaim over and over again, “OMG, I see what she’s doing here!”

My girl could not believe she had not seen the signs. All she saw previously was the kindness, love and support that X had given her. But with a fresh perspective, she now saw the subtle hints and the seeds that were planted, as well as the nurturing of those seeds till they became full grown resentment for the family. She also saw the increasing intensity and frequency of introducing X’s husband into the picture.

I did not have to hammer her head (and heart) with yelling and screaming. I simply gave her some guiding light and she saw the path herself. She saw where X was leading her.

How did I remain patient when the consequences could have been so severe?
Understanding that learning is done best when the student makes the discovery herself helped me to not rush her.

A student always learns better from a teacher who patiently guides the former to understand the lesson rather than from a teacher who rushes the lesson.

I could have sped up the debrief by just laying out what I knew or just laying out the 12 signs of online grooming that I found in the messages. But that’s stuffing information down my girl’s throat. She will forget about it as soon as the incident is over. She will not have gained any wisdom.

By slowly going through our lesson and helping her identify the signs herself, I am confident she will be able to identify the signs if she ever saw them again, even as an adult.

5) Apologise Sincerely

Wait, what? Apologise?

Yes, apologise.

I cannot pretend that EVERYTHING X had said about me was false. X had not lied. If she had, my daughter would have never believed her. If something were 100% false, it is easy to say, “No, that’s not true.” The problem was X had told half-truths. She had mixed lies with obvious truths. Half-truths are the most lethal because they transfer credibility to the lies. The truths make the lies believable. They make it easier to accept everything as true.

So what were the truths that X had said? She had simply repeated things that my daughter had told her, ie things my daughter knew to be true. For example, I was not there all the time when my daughter was doing her schoolwork, or I had restricted my daughter’s time on Minecraft, or I had brought the family out in the evenings or weekends, or I had praised my son, or I had spent time with my youngest daughter, etc etc.

However, X had lied viciously about the intentions behind those actions of mine. She had insisted that I had done those because I “obviously did not care” about my girl’s education, or that I had restricted my girl’s time on Minecraft or brought them out to deprive her of time on Minecraft because I “obviously didn’t care” what she liked to do in her free time, or that I was biased towards my son and youngest and did not care for my girl, etc. She really pounded on how I “OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T CARE” about my girl. Those were lies, lies that were easy to accept as truths because my daughter had FELT that I did not care.

So even though my daughter was misled by half-truths, there were truths in there that I had to take responsibility for. I was not present enough in my girl’s day-to-day life and her online interactions. While I did spend time sitting down to teach her, I had left her on her own to do the assignments. Maybe she needed me to be around (instead of being out for meetings etc) so she could ask me when she was stuck with her work.

The reason why my daughter had believed X was because I had created the “truths” for X to hang her lies on. I was the root cause. If I had not created those “truths”, X would have had nothing to work her magic on.

So I did what I needed to do. I apologised to my daughter. Sincerely. Repeatedly.

How did I even bring myself to apologise when it was X’s fault?
Realising that I was the root cause was all that was needed. Really.

I was not apologising for what X did. I apologised for giving X the opening to do what she did.

I have realised that apologies, when done sincerely, can heal relationships. My relationship with my daughter obviously had a crack which was why X was able to infiltrate in. My apology helped my daughter understand I knew I needed to bear responsibility of what had happened, that I knew my mistake, that I was willing to learn from my mistake. Those were powerful admissions that could mend emotional hurts. I could not afford to let my ego get in the way of having a strong relationship with my daughter, especially when I already knew I was at fault.

Where Do I Go From Here?

I had not invested sufficiently to keep my daughter’s connection with me strong. I may have thought it was sufficient, but it was obviously not sufficient enough for her to feel connected with me. Hence, I need to buck up and do what is necessary. This is not about me but about meeting her needs. I cannot possibly tell her, “Too bad. That’s all I have to offer.” I need to work harder to ensure she feels my love and not feel neglected.

With this, I need to relook at how I can remain connected with each of my three children (and my husband). More importantly, I need to check in with them regularly to be sure THEY feel connected with me.

What Happened to the Earlier “Connection” Established?

If my girl and I have had such a strong connection previously, how could this have happened? Was that connection completely gone? Or was that connection non-existent in the first place?

I am confident our connection is still there. It’s just that a section of the “bridge” fell off. That was why my daughter broke the rules and that was why an intruder was able to drive a wedge between us.

I know our earlier connection is still there because if it weren’t, my daughter would not have surrendered her phone without a big fight, nor would she have helped me with my investigation when I was fumbling with the app. More critically, she would not have been open to my decoding but would have insisted I was wrong and X was right.

If we have not had a strong connection before this, she could have stolen our credit cards and taken the first flight out to meet X.

I thank God that all the effort I have put in to establish a strong relationship with her has paid off. Things could have been so much worse.



Going back to the FB post I had quoted in Part 1 regarding my learning point from Safer Internet Day 2018,

“Very insightful sharing on strategies but the one point that kept coming across: establish a strong relationship with our children so they are more open to our guidance.”

Again, the power of having a strong relationship proves itself.

What had happened was a result of my lack of investment in the relationship between my daughter and me. My initial “investment principal” was still there. It’s just that I had momentarily stopped making “deposits”, resulting in a dip in the “return of investment”.

The lesson I took from this episode is this. We cannot take for granted that our initial investment in our relationship will last forever. We need to continually invest in it. And that applies to ALL relationships.

Happy parenting!

~ Vivian Kwek ~

Internet Safety For Kids (Part 1) ~ Identifying Online Groomers

On Feb 6, 2018, I was invited to attend Safer Internet Day 2018 hosted by Google and I had written a short post about it on my Decoding Your Child Facebook Page:

Safer Internet Day 2018 hosted by Google.

Heard from a strong panel about what parents can do to ensure internet safety for their children. What can we do about our children’s incessant gaming or addiction to their devices? What do we do if our children experience cyberbullying?

Very insightful sharing on strategies but the one point that kept coming across: establish a strong relationship with our children so they are more open to our guidance.

A great quote:
“Rules with relationship lead to response.
Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.”

 That is so true. If our relationship and connection with our children is broken, they will rebel against any rules we establish.

However, if our relationship with them is strong, if our connection with them is strong, it means there is trust, love and respect between our children and us. Then they will be more willing to respect the boundaries we set and be more open to the mediation strategies listed in the photo below.

So let us all strive to decode our children. Let us understand them so we can support their love and passion. When our children know we are on their side, they will naturally be drawn to us for guidance.

And I had signed off with my signatory, “Happy parenting!”

Pride Before Fall

There I was feeling rather positive that I had protected my children from cyberbullying. I was rather pleased with myself for turning my son’s “addiction” to gaming into a passion for programming and for limiting my daughter’s time on MineCraft. I was so confident my teens were safe on the internet. After all, they were not allowed to play online games with people whom they did not know, or in the case of MineCraft, they were not allowed to play with chats on. As far as I knew, my son was still coding in Khan academy and my teenage daughter played MineCraft hosted on my son’s server. There had definitely been no indication of cyberbullying going on. Yes, they were internet-safe. I was certain they would obey my internet rules since I had explained extensively to them the dangers of the internet.  Besides, my emotional connection with my children is strong. They would tell me if something were amiss.

Unfortunately, I could not have been more mistaken.

Rude Awakening

After I posted my FB post and got home, I went to check in with the children. My son, as usual, was coding. My teen daughter was busy tapping away on her phone. As soon as she saw me, she put her phone down. Something felt off. So out of curiosity, I asked her for her phone.

“Why?” she asked. I told her I had just attended an internet safety talk and I wanted to be sure about her and her brother’s safety online. Since she was no longer on the phone, I would like to see what she had been doing on it.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” was her reply. She had never expressed resistance to my requests for “spot checks” on any of her devices or her computer before. Her demeanour now was making me extremely worried.

“I’m sorry I must. To be safe. Please.” I said. Reluctantly, she handed me her phone. “I’d rather you didn’t, mom,” she repeated.

“I must. I’m sorry,” I replied as I took her phone with an empathetic look.

As I was going through the list of persons she had been WhatsApping with, a new message notification popped up. It was from an app I had never seen appeared. The icon that flashed looked like a blue game console. I caught sight of the word, “Discord”. The message disappeared before I read it.

Curious, I went hunting for it. I asked my teens what Discord was and my son told me it was an app for online chat. Online chat? What was that about? I scrolled through my daughter’s phone to find the app and found it hidden on the second page of a cluster of apps named, “Unused”. It was intentionally stored in a place where I would least likely check.

I opened the app to read the chats. It had started about 6 weeks ago, and it took me about 14 hours to get through every single message. Needless to say, I was horrified by what I discovered.

Was My Daughter Being “Groomed”?

I had read about internet dangers like online grooming. That was why I had forbidden my children from playing any online games with people whom they did not know in real life. And I had explained to them why as well as the presence of dangers like grooming. Never in a million years did I expect that any of my children could be subjected to it.

The first message had started 6 weeks ago. As I read the series of messages, I kept seeing comments that raised red flags. Was my daughter being groomed?

What is Grooming?

According to National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in United Kingdom, “grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abusesexual exploitation or trafficking.” I confess I do not know the intention of this person who has been contacting my daughter, but I do recognize the signs of grooming. Below were the signs I flagged.

Signs of Grooming

1) Moving from public chat room to private chat
This is the first sign of grooming. Groomers want to “work their magic” in private. Once they manage to get the child into a private chat platform, they can say whatever they want and manipulate the child without anyone the wiser.

That was how it happened for my daughter. She “met” this person, let’s call her X, on an online chat while playing MineCraft. Yes, she should have known better than to turn on the online chat. Unfortunately, in her naiveté, she did not know better. X seemed nice enough. X was helpful on the chat forum. By moving to the private chat, they could talk to each other without clogging up the public chat forum. What harm could there be?

2) Planting insidious seeds of negativity against the parents
Groomers typically plant seeds of negativity against the parents or trusted adults of the child. They sow seeds of discord and distrust to alienate the child and gain the trust of the child. As the grooming progresses, their attacks against the child’s trusted adults get more frequent and vicious.

I was surprised that within the first day of private chatting, X had planted a seed of negativity against my husband and me. It was a very subtle, almost inconspicuous side comment. My daughter had complained about the behaviour issues my preschooler had and X commented, “that’s the kind of things they learn from school or bad parents (emphasis is mine).” It was only Day 1 and X had already launched the first volley of attack.

After a few days, X referred to us as “the monsters” and called me “mean”. Within a month, I was “manipulative” for restricting my daughter’s access to MineCraft. X even wrote an entire essay on why I was “cruel, selfish and irresponsible and uncaring.” The barrage of accusations had left me breathless and incredulous. How could someone who did not even know me write about me with so much venom and hatred?

It did not end there. X even told my daughter that by law, when my girl turned 16, X could adopt her regardless of whether my husband or I agreed to it or not. And X would do that for her because X would not be the horrible parents that we were.

3) Fishing for information about the child
Now that there is a potential victim who is separated from the crowd, into a private chat platform, groomers need to know more about the potential victim. Instead of asking for information directly which would raise alarms in the victim, groomers will gently fish for information like age, name, location, school, etc.

X was smooth and praised the public chat forum of the MineCraft server they were on (no, they were not on my son’s server) for keeping users anonymous in order to protect the identity of all the users. X started talking about their avatars and how that could also help maintain anonymity. My daughter, being the trusting girl that she is, happily described herself. By the end of week 2, X knew everything about our family, including how we looked like. (yes my daughter sent X photos of the family.) The only saving grace here was my daughter refused to divulge our address despite repeated enticement from X that she would receive gifts in the mail if she would tell X her address.

4) Pushing for voice calls, then video calls
How would groomers authenticate the identity of their potential victims. How would the groomers know if the victim is indeed a child and not another groomer? How would they know if this child looks appealing? The best way is to do a video call so they can see for themselves. But to request for a video call right away would seem hasty and raise suspicions. So they will start by first suggesting voice calls, and when familiarity is increased, video calls. No only will the video show how the child looks like, it will also show the environment and setting of where the computer is and how much privacy the child has when online. In addition, once the child is comfortable doing video chats, the groomers could potentially get the child to do all kinds of stuff in front of the camera.

X was smart. The first few voice calls were “wonky”. My daughter could not hear X. When X’s voice sounded “robotic”, X’s reason was Discord (the app) was unstable. Finally, after several weeks, the voice issue was sorted out. My daughter could hear X (I suspect by then X had a voice changer installed properly). And a couple weeks later, X asked for video chats. In the video, X appeared to be who she said she was, an elderly lady who had difficulty walking. To me, she looked like an oversized man with a wig (X had sent my girl photos of herself).

5) Sowing ideas of meeting
In the case of online grooming, where the groomers do not know the physical location of the potential victim, they will casually plant an idea of a meet up. Over the duration of the grooming, they will suggest it more and more frequently until a request or suggestion for a meetup seems almost natural.

As the weeks passed, X would keep planting notions that it would be so awesome if they could meet. Or if my daughter were old enough and had enough money, she could fly to X.

6) Being the first to warn about groomers
The first one to raise a suspicion tends to appear less suspicious. Groomers are psychological experts. They know that to allay the fears of their victim, they need to be the first to raise the dangers of internet groomers. If they raise it first, their victim will naturally think they cannot be groomers. After all, who would want to be the whistle blower of their own crime?

And that was exactly what X did. Very early in their chats, X wrote, “I sound like some creep trying to gain your friendship and confidence to meet up and kidnap you.” If X could outright talk about online “kidnappers”, surely she (assuming she’s a she) can’t be one, right?

7) Suggesting to move to other “play” platforms
Groomers typically do not work alone. They have a network for which they help one another “snare” victims. If they know the physical location of their victim, they could redirect the victim to another platform where groomers from the victim’s location hang out. The “introducer” can get a fee for it.

Within a week of chatting, X suggested for my daughter to play on another server. When that failed despite repeated prompting, X introduced her to another group game where gamers exchange resources to get what they need. That would require my girl to interact with even more strangers, strangers X knew and could potentially, by transference of trust, get my girl to trust them. Luckily, my daughter was not interested.

8) Paving the way for appearance of a man
If the groomers had presented themselves as females to their potential victims, there is a high likelihood they would want to introduce a man into the picture. In fact, they would want their victim to believe this man to be someone whom the groomers trust and love. That would help with the transference of trust and reduce the suspicion or hesitancy of their victim accepting this new male figure.

Within 2 days of chatting, X casually mentioned something about sending a man of my girl’s dream into her path. The whole sowing was so well planned. First, X talked about how awesome her husband was. Then when my daughter commented how nice it was that X had a great husband, X casually tossed in the “fantasy” of sending a nice man to my girl. Over the course of the 6 weeks, X would hint that it would be great if X’s husband met up with my daughter. X even mentioned her husband was ok with her spending the night with a male friend. I presumed X was paving the way to tell my daughter it would be ok to spend the night with her husband should he appear.

In fact, on several occasions, the person who appeared on the chats identified himself as X’s husband. It was disturbing because there was really no way to tell who was in the chat until that person said he was the husband.

9) Establishing trust with the child
How do groomers establish trust so quickly with their victim? Simple. They are quick to identify similarities in interests, experience, possessions, even illness, to say, “Look, we are so alike. No wonder we click. We are best buddies.” That helps to draw their victim closer to them.

Time and again, X was very quick to point out how identical she was with my daughter. From objects like books, to interests in art, to physical ailments, to experiences with betrayal by friends, to everything under the sun., whatever my daughter mentioned, X exclaim how alike they were. Call me a skeptic, but the occurrence of similarities between the two of them was way too high to be coincidental.

10) Building deep connections with the child
Groomers can be really caring and nurturing, or appear to be so. They will dig for things that trouble their victim and offer comfort to them. They will praise and flatter their victims and lament why no one (ie the other adults in the child’s life) else saw the strengths of the child. They make themselves appear to be the one and only person who cares about and love the child, who will protect the child. They make everyone else the villain. Because of their showering of love and concern of their victim, the latter gets emotionally drawn towards their groomers.

I guess I didn’t have to elaborate on this with X. She was really good at showering attention on my girl. Apparently, X was on a different time zone and she made it very clear that she would stay up to chat with my daughter anytime she needed X. X would comfort my girl when she was sad, and berate others (ie me) for making life miserable for my daughter. She was very effective at showing she was on my girl’s side and she would fight all monsters for her. How could one not feel loved by and connected to someone like that?

11) Identifying the level of isolation of the child
Groomers know if their victim has a strong relationship with other adults in her life, there is a likelihood the victim will, at some point, turn to these other adults for help when she is unsure of how to respond to the groomers requests. Hence, they will attempt to figure out how isolated their victim is. If the victim is not isolated enough, they will resort to attack those close to the victim till she feels totally lonely and has no one else left except the groomers themselves.

And that was what X did. When she first started badmouthing me and blaming me for not allowing my girl to go on MineCraft, my daughter had defended me and explained why that had happened. However, as the days passed, X would add a comment here and there and illustrate how unreasonable I was. As a teen, it was understandable, at least to me, why it was appealing for my daughter to see me in that light. So by and by, my daughter turned against me. Through it all, X kept asking if there was anyone at all that my daughter could go to. And repeated, my daughter said she only had X.

12) Threatening to spill the beans
Grooming is a psychological game. After establishing that the victim is completely isolated and dependent on the groomers, they would then threaten, either seriously or jokingly, to tell the secret to their victim’s parents. Out of fear, their victim will toe the line and play by their rules.

Yes, X did that, multiple times. Sometimes the threats came across as jokes. Sometimes they sounded like threats. X even planting the fear that she had a private investigator searching for my girl and that this private investigator could tell me everything. Knowing my daughter, she would never want me to know of this secret because she knew she was not supposed to be playing MineCraft with chat on. She was afraid that if I found out, I would ban her from playing MineCraft or that I would confiscate all her devices so she would not be able to interact with X. Naturally, she grew more compliant as the chat went on.


So there you have it, the 12 signs I identified from the chats that looked like X was grooming my daughter. What would you do if you were in my position?

I will share what I did with my discovery in my next blog post Internet Safety for Kids (Part 2)) ~ Prying My Daughter From The Groomer’s Grasp.

Happy parenting!

~ Vivian Kwek ~

Keep Them Safe (Part 2)

As a young parent many years ago, I had worried about child abduction, car accidents and even earthquakes (we were in living Vancouver then). Slowly, I learnt that some worst-case scenarios were beyond my control. It was no use worrying about them. We can be mentally prepared and teach our children what to do in the event of those situations, but worrying does not help one bit.

We Have Some Control Over Their Safety

There is something, however, that we as parents have some level of control over. And that is car safety. In our recent post, I wrote about making wearing helmets a habit whenever our children ride bicycles or scooters or go roller blading. Today, I will touch on seat belts and car seats.

Like helmets, car seats and seat belts may be uncomfortable. In fact, they seem utterly useless most of the time UNTIL the one time they are needed. And if they were not put into use at that ONE moment they were needed, we may find ourselves uttering the dreaded, “If only…”

We Grew Up Without Them, Didn’t We?

Seat belts were never deemed to be a matter of LIFE or DEATH when we were growing up. My family grew up never buckling up while in a car, until it was made mandatory by law for those riding in the front passenger seat to buckle up. I never ever saw or heard of a car seat growing up, much less sat in one, as car seats were non-existent in those days (yes, I belong to that era). No one I knew, adult or child, ever died in a car accident. The odds of surviving without a car seat or seat belt seemed really good. Why should we suffer the inconvenience and discomfort of these safety devices?

Horror Stories

Fast forward to when I was working in an Orthopaedics Department 15 years ago. One of my friends from Vancouver General Hospital is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon. He shared with my wife and me a clinical case. He had been treating a teenage girl for years for injuries she sustained from a car accident she was in when she was a toddler. That girl needed braces to help her walk and because she was still growing, her braces needed to be changed frequently. He then said something that I would never forget. He said, “She could have walked away from that accident without a scratch. The reason why I’m still treating her 10 years after her accident is because she wasn’t in a car seat.” He added, “If parents could see the kinds of injuries sustained by babies and little children from car accidents, injuries and deaths which are totally preventable with a car seat, they will NEVER EVER let their children ride in a car without strapping them in.”

Make Strapping In A Habit

Thanks to his advice, on top of working in an Orthopaedics Department, we had put each and every single one of our children in a car seat for as many years as possible. Each of them went through a phase where they would squirm, kick and scream whenever they were strapped in. But we never relented or gave up. We always told them that buckling up in the car was non-negotiable because we wanted them to be safe.

Our #1 cried non-stop from the moment he was strapped in till we arrived at our destination and carried him out of his car seat. #2 cried till she threw up and continued crying till we arrived. #3 bucked like a wild horse, and yes, cried the whole journey.

Yet without fail, after a few weeks of crying EVERY SINGLE TIME they were strapped to their car seat, somehow, they would all get used to it. Then miraculously, they would “graduate” to wanting to buckle themselves up as soon as we got into the car. And once they grew out of their car seats, and subsequently their booster seats, they would automatically put on their seat belts. Yes, automatically, by themselves.

To further instill in our children the need to be buckled up, my wife and I would always verbally announce that we ourselves were buckled up before we started our engine. Now that my children are older and can buckle themselves in, sometimes we would start the engine without checking (especially if we are in a hurry). But my children would protest and insist we shut off the engine and wait till they are all buckled up. And we do oblige. Continuing to instill the habit of safety, of strapping themselves in, especially since we still have a preschooler in the car, remains important to my wife and me.

All It Takes Is ONE Accident

Fortunately for us, touch wood, we have never been in an accident where we can prove that the car seat or seat belts have saved us and our children. A friend of ours, however, can attest to how the car seat and seat belts had saved his family. Years ago, their car had hit a patch of black ice and overturned on the way home from a winter trip. Luckily, all the adults had their seat belts on and his little boy was strapped in his car seat. No one sustained any injuries. Today his son is formidable ice hockey goalie. His story could have been very different if the little boy hadn’t been strapped in. His story could have been very different if my friend and his wife had not had their seatbelts on.

So parents, please help your children develop the habit of buckling up whenever they ride in a car. Yes, it’s hard to buckle a screaming, kicking, buckling baby in the car seat. Yes, we are highly competent drivers; we can drive as safely as possible; we can drive slowly. But we cannot control the road conditions. We cannot control how other drivers drive. What if the car hydropaned during a rain storm, or if we hit a patch of oil spill on the road? What if another driver was reckless or inexperienced and hit us? Accidents are called accidents because no one had intended for them to happen.

Correct Use of Car Seat

Like helmets, car seats are useless if they are not used properly. So how do we ensure we are using the car seat correctly?

a) Put Children Under 2 years Old in Rear Facing Car Seats
Children under 2 years old have very weak neck muscles. If they are in forward facing position, they could get seriously injured in the event the car jerks to a sudden stop. Rear facing car seats will prevent unnecessary serious whiplash injuries on these young children.

b) Secure Car Seat Tightly
Unlike the cars we had in US and Canada, the cars in Singapore do not seem to come with the LATCH system. These anchors and tethers help to tightly secure car seats to the seats on which they are placed on. I really wish LTA would insist upon cars having this feature for the safety of our children.

Car seat latch

(Photo credit: )

Until it becomes a common feature in our cars, as parents, we can only do our best to secure our children’s car seats with seat belts. If you can wriggle the car seat and it can slide, it is too loose and will not be able to protect the child sitting in it. To tightly secure the car seat for our 3-year-old, we press our knee on the empty car seat, pushing it as far into the seat as possible and then pull the seat belt threaded through the car seat to tighten it as much as we can. When this is done properly, the car seat will not wiggle a millimeter when you try to shake it from its base.

c) Tighten The Harness On the Car Seat
The harness on the car seat needs to be snug against the child, regardless of whether the car seat is rear or forward facing. Of course it should not be so tight as to make it difficult for the child to breathe. However, it should not be loose enough for you to slide you hand through it. If the impact of the car is high enough and the child is not snuggly fitted into his car seat, he can actually slide out of his car seat and be propelled forward, unprotected. To know if the harness is snug enough, try the pinch test. If you can pinch the harness after your child is strapped in, it is too loose.

Car seat pinch

The Pinch Test: Too loose
(Photo credit:

d) Proper Threading Of The Harness
Why are there so many slits on the back of the car seat? When your child is seated rear facing in the car seat, the harness should emerge slightly below his shoulders from the back. That will prevent him from sliding upward when the car jerks to a sudden stop. When your child is seated forward facing in the car seat, the harness should emerge slightly above her shoulders from behind so that her shoulders don’t get crushed if the car jerks to a sudden stop. As our child grows, we will need to adjust the harness accordingly.

Car Seats And Seat Belts Save Lives

Car seats save lives. Seat belts save lives. As parents, not only do we want to insist on our children being buckled up, we need to lead by example ourselves and buckle up even if we are in the back seat. All it takes is one, just one, accident to show us that car seat and seat belts are essential. If the time comes and we didn’t have them on, it might be too late to say, “If only….”


Read our previous blog post on helmet safety.

– Juay –

Keep Them Safe

To me, the most painful phrase we tend to use when things go wrong is, “If only…” This phrase is highly unproductive and leads us to either lay blame or instill guilt. Yet, when we hear of fatal accidents that could have been avoided, it automatically surfaces.

An Unfortunate Death

A couple of weeks ago, Sam Koh suffered serious head injuries when he fell from his electric scooter and passed away the next day. His younger brother, Benson, had told The New Paper that his brother “just wore a cap, but didn’t wear a helmet. He’s an expert. He has been riding for a long time.”

My heart aches for his family and friends. Such a promising young man’s life cut short just like that. His life has been so needlessly lost at a young age of 23. If only…

Let Sam Not Die In Vain

It is with sadness and togetherness with the family and friends of Sam that I wrote this article. It is my desire to not let him die in vain, to use this incident as an opportunity for others to learn so that more people will be saved. One life lost in this manner is one too many. What can we learn from this incident? How can we prevent a similar occurrence?

We Grew Up Without Helmets, Didn’t We?

I’ll confess. I’ve never ridden the bicycle with a helmet when I was growing up. I just went to East Coast, rented a bicycle and sped around. I was never taught about wearing a helmet then. I only started wearing a helmet regularly after I enlisted in National Service. No one I knew ever died because they had ridden without a helmet.

Horror Stories Of Cycling Without A Helmet

It was only after I became a father that the importance of a helmet while riding a bicycle was instilled in me. Maybe because at that time, I was working in an Orthopaedics Department and heard horror stories from emergency personnel of cyclists dying or suffering severe head injuries because they did not wear a helmet. Those were deaths and injuries that could have been prevented by wearing a simple device called a HELMET. The importance of wearing a helmet was brought closer to home following an accident experienced by a colleague who cycled to work everyday. One day, a truck bumped into the back of this colleague’s bicycle while he was cycling to work and he literally flew off his bike. He was badly bloodied up and his helmet cracked in two upon impact on the ground. If he had not had a helmet on, his skull would have fractured instead of the helmet and he probably wouldn’t have lived to tell his tale.

Wearing Helmets As A Rule

We were living in Vancouver at that time and it is a local rule that all cyclists must wear a helmet. When my son took his first cycling lesson at the age of 4, the instructors coached and taught the importance of wearing a helmet while cycling. Two years later we moved to the US and my son joined Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as a cub scout. It is a written rule in BSA that all scouts and accompanying adults taking part in any activity on bicycles and roller blades must wear a helmet. No helmet, no wheels.

So from young, my children were not allowed to be on anything with wheels (of course that excluded buses and cars) if they did not have their helmets on. As soon as they rode their first tricycle, bicycle and scooter, or put on their roller blades, we made them wear their helmets. There were no exceptions. No helmet, no wheels. That was and still is our rule to this day. Even if they wanted to cycle in or around the house, they needed to have their helmets on.

Make Wearing Helmets A Habit

Many parents may think that the little ones don’t go very fast on their bicycles or scooters. Even if they fall, they won’t hurt themselves very badly. However, putting on the helmet at a young age is not about whether the children are fast enough to hurt themselves or not. It is about developing a habit. As parents, we can only hope that putting on a helmet every time they get on wheels becomes a habit that will carry over through their teenage years to adulthood.

Sadly, in Singapore, we see many people, children and adults alike, without helmets when they cycle, scoot, skate or blade. When our children ask why they have to wear their helmets when others don’t, we explain that it’s our family rule because we want everyone to be safe. Once the children are used to putting on their helmets when they are young, putting on their helmets when they are older becomes a natural habit.


It’s Easier To Instil Habit When They Are Young

When the children are not competent on wheels, it is easy for us parents to insist they wear a helmet. If they have never needed a helmet when they were younger, slower and less sure on their wheels, will they think they need a helmet when they become more competent and go faster on their wheels? Probably not. And therein lies the danger.

My 3-year-old knows our helmet rule too. Whenever she wants to ride on her scooter or balance bike, she will go look for her helmet. My teenager also knows if he forgets to bring his helmet when we go roller blading, he can sit by the side and watch the bags for the rest of us. As an accompanying adult in any activities on wheels, I make sure I set a good example by wearing my helmet too.


Wearing Helmets Right

While wearing a helmet is very important, it is practically useless if it is not a sturdy helmet or if it is not worn properly.

a) The right helmet
Getting a good helmet is important. When getting a helmet, choose one that has passed ANSI or ASTM tests. Such helmets will be able to absorb the impact and protect the skull. The box for the helmet will indicate clearly that the helmet had been certified and there will be stickers inside the helmet indicating likewise.

b) Helmets have limited shelf life
The foam in a helmet has a limited shelf life typically of about 5 years. Beyond this period, the foam will have deteriorated and not able to absorb impact forces even though it may look perfectly good on the outside. Get a new helmet if yours is old. Do not use hand-me-downs or second-hand helmets especially if you do not know how many years it has been in use. A helmet with poor material will not serve the purpose of protecting your skull.

c) Buckle it
So now you have a new certified helmet.  Just putting the helmet on the head without buckling it is useless. As soon as we fall, that helmet will fly off our heads, defeating the purpose of wearing a helmet in the first place. So make sure the helmet is clipped on.

d) Strap it tight
Got the helmet buckled? Fantastic. But let’s make sure it is snug against your head. After buckling the helmet on your head, jerk your head around a little, forward, backward, sideward. If the helmet slides, it’s too loose. Adjust the straps till the helmet doesn’t slide around. If no matter how you adjust the straps the helmet still slides, it is not a well fitting helmet.  Get another one.  Of course there is not need to tighten the straps so much that you choke yourself. There are helmets with tightening devices at the back of the helmet. Those help to hold the helmets in position when they are properly put on.


Invest in a new, certified and well-fitted helmet. It is worth it.

Let’s Keep Everyone, Especially Our Children, Safe

Let us all help protect our children. Help them develop the habit of putting on a helmet whenever they get on wheels, be it a bicycle, scooter, roller blades, long board, hover board, unicycle, etc. We never know when that helmet might save lives. Let us never have to utter the phrase, “If only…”


If you have enjoyed this post, you might like Part 2 of my Keep Them Safe series.

– Juay –