News

25 March 2021

How to support children with SEND with talking to people online

SEND article Boy on phone

Net Aware has partnered with Ambitious about Autism to bring online safety advice specifically for parents and carers of children with SEND.

Young people use the internet to contact friends they might know from school or other activities. Sometimes children with special educational needs and disabilities may struggle with making friends when other children are not being inclusive or kind.

Chatting to people online can be an easier way of making friends or finding like-minded people.

It can also be easier to talk to people online without the pressure of face-to-face interaction or sensory input. Talking online gives children more time to process than a standard conversation.

Children can chat with people they’ve met in online spaces, like on social media sites, gaming platforms or other online communities.  But talking to people online can be risky if your child is talking to someone they don’t know or haven’t met before. 

This article will help you understand some of the reasons kids might want to talk to people online and give you some tips on how to keep them safer.

Why might kids want to chat to people online?

  • To make friends if they are feeling isolated or lonely
  • To talk to people with the same interests and experiences as them
  • To talk tactics for gaming
  • To find support and advice

Ask your child whether they chat with people online and what they enjoy about it. Knowing their reasons can help you with conversations about how to keep them safe.

What you should know

Social media can have a real draw for children and young people. However, the ‘unwritten rules’ of social media can be very confusing. This can be especially difficult for young people with SEND.

Children know that saying unkind words isn’t a nice thing to do. But social media can be more subtle in the way it can cause upset.

Children can exclude others from groups online or on group chats. And sometimes something as little as not commenting on or liking a photo can cause an argument.

Talk to your child about their understanding of the ‘unwritten rules’ of social media and talking to people online. Ask them if they have ever felt left out, excluded or confused by how other children use social media.

There are some online platforms that have been created specifically for children to chat with other people their own age such as PopJam and Kids Chat.

However, they are often not moderated and don’t require much information to sign up. This means it can be easy for adults to access them.

These sites are easy to find on Google and because they say they are ‘kids only’, a child might sign up thinking that it’s ok. Children who might not use social media yet, might be interested as a way to chat to people online and make friends.

You should talk to your child about people on sites like this. Tell them to come to you before they start using a new app, site or game and use the Family Agreement to support this. These sites can be risky and we wouldn’t recommend children under 18 use them.

Some children might want to use apps like Kik and Hoop to chat to others online. These apps are similar to dating apps and use your location to connect you with people nearby. It is very likely that children could be contacted by someone they don’t know on apps like these.

These apps use video chat so it can be easy for children to come across images, videos and messages they could find upsetting and video chat with someone they don’t know.

It is easy for kids to get access to these apps by putting in a different age when they make an account. 

Omegle is a free online chat room that randomly connects you with people you don’t know via video and text chat.

You are not required you to register so it’s easy for kids to access it. Parents and carers should be aware that there is an ‘unmoderated’ area of the site that contains adult conversation and inappropriate content. This site is not suitable for kids under the age of 18.

Talk to your child about whether they have used Kik, Hoop or Omegle. If they have, talk about the risks involved. If they haven’t, talk through why these apps and sites are risky.

Talking to people online can be an important lifeline for some children, especially if they struggle to make friends in-person.

But sometimes friends can take advantage or be unkind. Keep talking to your child about their friendships online and let them know they can talk to you about anything that has upset them.

Being exploited online could include:

  • Pressuring people to give money
  • Asking someone to share things about themselves that should be private
  • Asking someone to share images, videos or livestreams that are considered sexual.

 

Use our Friendships activity to support these conversations or read our Top Tips from parent/carers of children with SEND for further advice.

SEND Hub

Find out more tips from parents of SEND children

Top Tips from Parents
Information produced in partnership with Ambitious about Autism