Making sure your child is safe online
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.
Why do children want to chat with others 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.
Following advice is created by NetAware and National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. You can access their site for more information: https://www.net-aware.org.uk/
- Supporting Online Communication+
The online world has helped us keep in touch with family and friends we haven’t been able to see this year. But sometimes, our children might talk to people they don’t know online, like on games or social media sites.
Make sure you’re chatting regularly to your child about who they’re talking to online and what apps they’re using. Remind them that they shouldn’t share any personal information, like names, locations or links to other social media sites.
- Using Social Media+
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.
- Online chat rooms for children+
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.
- Apps that potentially connect children and adults+
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
- Things to look out for+
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.
- Suitable online support networks+
- Supporting Digital Wellbeing+
Being online is a great way for kids to play, create, learn and connect. Technology has helped us to have fun and feel connected throughout the last year.
However, some kids have seen worrying news or feel pressure to keep up with friends and followers on social media and games.
Some kids use technology to communicate or to do their home-school work. As we are spending so much more time online, it can be hard to avoid.
If your child is feeling overwhelmed, here are suggestions to support their wellbeing.
- Talk to your child about what they are doing online+
It’s important to check in regularly with your child about the apps and games they are using. You can ask what they like about them and who they’re talking to.
Your child might have questions about something they’ve seen on social media or on the news.
Fake News can be particularly confusing for young people with SEND. It can be hard to understand what is real and what isn’t, and why people would lie.
Newsround has some great videos you can watch with your child about the news.
Let them know they can always come to you, another trusted adult or a Childline counsellor.
- Familiarise yourself with your child’s favourite apps, games and sites+
Check our Net Aware reviews to learn more about the apps, games and sites your child is using and how you can help keep them safe online.
Talk to your child about the content they are reading or watching. Some sites online are dedicated to discussing harmful and sometimes extreme content. This could cover topics such as extremism, eating disorders or how to harm yourself. Sometimes your child may have a keen interest in an inappropriate topic.
It is important to talk to your child about this content and why it isn’t suitable. You could start the conversation by asking what they find interesting about this content and explaining why it could worry others or get them into trouble.
- Create a family agreement+
Start communication with your child and agree on some rules about what is okay to do online.
They could agree to check with you before they download a new app, or to not accept friend requests from people they do not know.
Different agreements work for different families so do what works best for yours.
You can also use our Online one page profile if your child is used to this format. It gives them the opportunity to share what they like about the apps, games and sites they use as well as agree to rules.
- Turn off notifications+
It can be hard to switch off with smartphones and tablets. It’s important to talk to kids about the pressure of ‘always being online’.
If being online is not making them feel good, turn off some or all notifications for some time out. You can turn off notifications on most apps by exploring the settings on the device.
Some apps, like Instagram, have features that let you silence notifications for a set period. When the time is up, notifications will return to their normal settings.
You can also switch on do not disturb mode on your child’s device to mute messages and notifications at certain times.
This is especially important if your child is struggling with bullying online.
- Explore wellbeing settings and apps+
Many apps have resources to support user’s wellbeing. Apps like TikTok, Roblox and Snapchat all have wellbeing guides and settings which are useful for you to explore with your child.
- Be aware of social pressures and explore resources that could help them+
While connecting with friends over apps and games isn’t a new thing for kids, not being able to see friends every day at school might bring about new worries and stresses. Social pressure will come with fears of not being accepted or understood.
This can be especially difficult for children with SEND.
There might be more pressure to talk and share online, or they might feel more alone without face-to-face contact. Sometimes friends can fall out or they may have misunderstandings. This can be very confusing and isolating.
Talk to your child about healthy friendships online by using our Friendships activity.
- Focus on the positives of being online+
Being online can be a lifeline for some children. And for children who have special interests, the online world can open these up for them and bring them great joy.
They can research their special interest online or talk to others who have the same interests.
Your child may also use technology to communicate or relate to the world around them.
If your child is benefitting from using technology or being online, do not feel guilty about screen time or allowing them access to the internet. Different things work for different families.
Use the Family agreement or Online one page profile to make an agreement that works for you and your child. The most important thing is that your child is happy and safe and you’re aware of what they’re doing.