Internet safety is an important lesson to teach any child – and even adults. But when you’ve got a special needs child or a child that learns differently than others, it becomes especially important to talk to them about this and make sure they – and you, as well – are equipped for the unique challenges internet activity poses for neuroatypical individuals.
What Are The Risks Your Child Is Facing Online?
Online activity can be risky even for the most self-aware adults, but children and teens are especially vulnerable, particularly if they have special needs, learning disabilities, etc. Here are some of the things that may be dangerous for your child:
- Malware, viruses, infected devices;
- Exposure to vulgar, inappropriate, or adult language;
- Exposure to vulgar, inappropriate, or adult content or images;
- Predatory activity from other users;
- Cyberbullying from other users;
- Harassment, stalking, blackmail, etc.
How To Navigate Internet Safety For You And Your Child
1. Have a conversation about it
The first step is to sit down with your child and have an open and frank conversation about being online and what that means, as well as what risks and dangers that may pose. All children benefit greatly from some clear rules set in place regarding internet use, so you can decide together what would be some appropriate ones.
Here are a few ideas that can be good guidelines:
- Talk about why the child or teen wants to go online, and what content they are interested in pursuing.
- Decide on what is an appropriate timeframe or number of hours per week that your child or teen is allowed to spend online.
- Decide what constitutes appropriate content for your child or teen, and what kind of content they should stay away from and why.
- Decide who are appropriate people to go to for help if they do encounter inappropriate content or they feel unsafe on an internet space.
2. Put some safety measures in place
Thankfully, there are several tools that can aid you in keeping your loved ones safe as much as possible. And while some of these safety measures can be bypassed by particularly astute children, having them is better than not, so make sure to look into some of these as an extra way of safeguarding your vulnerable child or teen.
- Limit or block websites that are not suitable for your child or that you do not want your child to access. There are tools that help you do this, and your internet service provider should be able to give you some parental control options.
- There are also programs available that can track online activity while your child is using the computer. It is up to you to what degree you wish to monitor activity, or until what age; it depends on your child and their capabilities.
- You can either turn off the internet router outside of the allotted times, or use the router’s options to block your children’s devices. You can also change the password frequently, in order to avoid your child gaining access to the internet outside of the times they are allowed to and at times when you are unable to monitor their activity.
3. Agree on some safe behavior
A major part of online safety (even for adults) is practicing some behaviors and taking some precautions in order to make sure that the child is safe and is navigating as appropriately as possible, with as low of a risk as possible.
Here are some of the things your child can employ in order to make extra sure they are protected online:
- Talk about what is appropriate behavior towards other people and on public forums (or even private ones). Most often, the issue is protecting the child or teen, but there is also a very real chance of the child or teen engaging in inappropriate behavior and inadvertently hurting someone online, especially if they are experiencing issues with processing typical social behavior.
This includes things like the appropriate language to use, being polite to everyone they encounter, not angering easily or engaging in bullying behavior.
- Explain to them that not everyone on the internet is truthful or has good intentions, and that they cannot believe everything they read online or everything someone tells them. Naïve users, and especially children and teenagers are often taken advantage of in situations where they were too trusting and gullible. Make sure to teach them to check any information they read or receive, either with you or another trusted adult.
- Stress the importance of anonymity online and the information that is private and needs to be protected. That includes sensitive information such as their SSN, bank account numbers, credit cards, etc., as well as address, or phone number.
Especially when they are also using social media, teach them the difference between posting on social media for peers they know and trust, and posting online for strangers, regardless of whether or not they consider them online friends.
Encourage them to take safety precautions when participating in online games, such as using an unrelated avatar (not their photograph), and a fictional screen name. Explain why this is not lying, and is just a means of protecting one’s privacy, even when dealing with someone directly and playing together.
4. Seek help if you are concerned or your child is negatively impacted by their internet use
Finally, you should know that you are not alone in dealing with this issue, and that there are not only other parents that can help you and offer some support and guidance, but also institutions and organizations that deal with protecting children online.
Especially if you are concerned that your young one is at risk online or has been negatively impacted by the time they spent in online spaces, you can and should seek help.
Depending on how serious the problem is, you can address:
- The school – Oftentimes, harassment and cyberbullying are perpetrated by peers
- Internet safety organizations – Here is a great resource for organizations and institutions that are in charge of protecting children online
- The police – If your child is being harassed or the target of predatory behavior, this is a serious issue to be handled by the authorities
The internet can be an exceptional resource for young children and teenagers, not only for education, but also for entertainment and socialization. Especially for children with autism, who may otherwise experience difficulties with traditional learning and socialization methods, it can be an essential tool to help them grow.
However, dangers are always present, especially for vulnerable individuals, so it’s important for parents to be aware and equipped to prepare and protect the child from what might affect them negatively online, from language to content and targeted harassment.