Talking to people online
Read our article on tips to help your children talk to people online safely.Talking to people online
Net Aware has partnered with Ambitious about Autism to bring online safety tips, advice and activities specifically for parents and carers of children with SEND. We spoke to parents of children with a range of special educational needs such as dyslexia, autism and speech and language difficulties.
Letting your child go online can be intimidating; you might worry about the different spaces they explore, the people they meet digitally and the potential for things going wrong.
Being online can be positive for children and young people, including those with additional needs. So much of our communication now happens online, either by messages, in a game or through a video call. Sometimes online platforms like the apps, social media sites and games your child accesses can help them connect and make friends with new people that they might not know offline.
As a parent or carer, you play an important role in helping to make sure your child has a positive experience online. When your child has additional needs, your role can be even more important, and it can feel like a lot of responsibility when you hear about some of the risks young people face online.
Are you used to using Photo Symbols to help your child? We have created two conversation starters for you to use.
We spoke to a group of parents and carers who have children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND) and asked them to share their top online safety tips.
Use our reviews and advice on the apps, games, and sites your child is using. This knowledge will help you feel more confident answering any questions they might have.
“I would advise all parents to download the apps that their children are using just to familiarise yourself with how they work.” Kelly, parent of a 15 year old.
If things do go wrong, create a script or visual story to explain the actions they can take, who they can talk to and what to do if they get upset. Help them visualise what to do and how to question things that don’t feel right. Use the one ‘One page profile’ and find out more about your child’s interests.
“Let them know they can talk to you anytime about anything” Mohammed, parent of a 15 year old.
Showing interest in what your child is doing by asking them to show you how things work or what they enjoy about specific games or apps. It is likely that they are the experts and could teach you a thing or two! By showing your child that you have an interest in what they do online, they are more likely to come to you when things go wrong. You could use our ‘Online one page profile’ to support these conversations.
When someone sends you something upsetting online, the best thing to do is stop responding and remove yourself from the conversation. Showing your child how to report, block and mute users on their favourite platform is a good way to help them feel prepared if they ever receive something unkind online.
“It is important children feel they can report comments that have upset them.” Sally, parent of an 18 year old.
Remind your child to report any comment, video, or image they see that upsets them or that could upset someone else. Muting is an option available on some platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. When you Mute an account the other user can still send you messages and see your account, but you won’t be able to see their posts or messages on your timeline or inbox. It can also be a good way to hide a message without notifying the other person.
Blocking is a good tool to use if your child is contacted by someone they don’t know offline or someone that keeps sending them unkind messages. While muting stops you from seeing what someone says unless you look for it, blocking stops them from being able to communicate with you or see what you are doing.
The online world makes it easier for people to be anonymous. People might behave in a way they wouldn’t do offline and say unkind things they wouldn’t say to someone’s face. When someone repeatedly sends unkind messages to another person this is called cyberbullying or trolling.
Accounts or people that behave in this way, might not always be telling the truth about who they are. They might use another person’s pictures, a different name, a different location or be lying about their age. This can make it harder for the person sending the messages to be reported or blocked from the platform.
“Encourage safe friendships and make them aware if this changes and this person starts asking for things or shows threatening behaviour, how to report.” Shakti, parent of a 13 year old.
As well as speaking to your child about people they haven’t met, you should also remind them that even people they know offline, such as friends from school or clubs, might behave differently online.
For example, someone might pretend to be a friend but is using that relationship to be mean to, manipulate or exploit someone who is more ‘vulnerable’ than them. A person might use the social isolation or low self confidence that someone has to their advantage.
Make sure to regularly check in with your child about who they’re talking to online and what kind of things they chat about. Exploitative friendships, sometimes known as ‘mate crime’, can happen in different ways but might include:
To support your child, help them build an understanding of how some people can behave online, and remind them that you’re always there for them if they want to talk. Our Online safety quiz or Friendships activity could help with this conversation.
“Talk through what happened, what was said or anything that they may have seen that has been upsetting or confusing.” Linda, parent of a 16 year old.
Many parents and carers worry about who their child might meet when playing games online or using social media. Look at setting up parental controls and privacy settings to interact with others safely, starting with playing with those they know offline or in a space that is just for them and their friends.
This can be done by setting up private rooms or ‘lobbies’ in games. Find out more about the apps, games and sites they are using by looking at the Net Aware information, especially the privacy settings and parental controls.
“If you know other parents, set up set times for playing in secure rooms” Conor, parent of a 13 year old.
For social media, if age-appropriate, this can be a private account which connects your child to those they know offline, like friends from school or family members. Talk to your child about what is appropriate for them to share on social media and agree some rules around when they can use it. Remind them that everything they post online can be traced back to them so it’s important to think before you post anything on your account. And make sure they know they can always come to you if they have any questions about anything they see online.
Most devices have settings that let you set restrictions around what sites your child can access. Be open with your child about these settings if you choose to enable them and explain that they’ll help keep them safe when they’re spending time online. Filling in our Family Agreement is a good way of supporting these conversations.
A lot of the focus can be on other people’s behaviour when it comes to the online world. But it’s important to make sure your child understands what is expected of them when they go online as well. You might want to talk to them about what language is and isn’t appropriate to use and discuss ways they can respect other people’s privacy online. Remind them that they should never send unkind comments to anyone, not even in response to something someone else has said.
“I encourage my child to be kind and respectful to everyone as well as to keep safe and to tell me about any ‘not nice’ things that cause him upset.” Mandy, parent of a 5 year old and an 8 year old.
Often without tone and body language, it can be difficult to understand what someone is trying to say or how you are being perceived. It is important to teach your child about how different communication styles might be interpreted - although they may not have meant offense it might be taken as offensive.
We have worked with Ambitious about Autism and parents and carers who have children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND) to create activities to help talk about online safety.