Special Needs and Internet Safety

These days it seems the entire world is at our fingertips via the wonder known as the Internet. While the Internet is a valuable tool and very much a part of our daily life, it is not without its dangers. Although parents of ALL children and teens need to be VERY observant of their children’s internet usage, children and teens with special needs are particularly vulnerable to certain dangers found on the world wide web. Following are a few tips to protect your child/teen during Internet and social media usage:

  • Keep a close eye on your child’s Internet usage. Do not allow them to spend long amounts of time with a device without your supervision. What can begin as watching innocent Peppa Pig or Kids’ Bop videos on YouTube can quickly turn into inappropriate or disturbing content.
  • Know your child’s passwords for devices and apps. Keep an open dialogue, especially between parents and teens. Depending on the teen’s cognitive and social level, parents may opt to not provide the child or teen with the password and instead choose to enter that information themselves each time.
  • Set rules and expectations for Internet and device usage (and enforce consequences if these rules are broken) if your child is able to understand these types of rules. Rules could include things like “phones go into a basket and stay with Mom and Dad overnight” or “devices must be used in common areas such as the living room”. Again, keep an open dialogue and set the rules and expectations that are important for your family.
  • Utilize parental controls that come on the phone or device, but do not rely on these as “babysitters”. There is no device that can monitor 100% perfectly. You can find more information on using parental controls with Apple and Android devices here:
  • Consider using special parental control apps. These apps aren’t free, but they are good for filtering/blocking inappropriate content, limiting and managing time spent on devices, and providing logs of a child’s Internet usage:
    • Norton Family Premier ($49.99 per year)
    • ESET parental control for Android ($30 per year)
    • Qustudio- Good for households which use multiple devices (54.95 per year for 5 devices)
  • Know who your child is talking to on social media. Keep an eye on his friend list and friend requests. If he receives a friend request from a person with whom he has no mutual friends or only one or two mutual friends – even if the name and image are of someone he knows – it could be a scam page. Scammers often clone the social media accounts of real people and your child may not be able to tell the difference.

Last, but not least, and probably MOST IMPORTANTLY:

  • Know the device or app as well or better than your child does. Do your research on it. Keep up to date with the latest popular apps, websites, and games. Do not assume that because your child has special needs that he is unable to navigate a new device or app.

I like to think of the Internet as a fire. Fire is necessary, it is useful, and there are many great ways to use it. But, we must exercise caution with fire or we will get burned. We have to treat it like the powerful force that it is and not assume that our kids will know how to handle it or responsibly use it. Should we be afraid of the Internet and ban all devices forever? Of course not! But we have to do our part to protect our kids and keep them safe.

Meredith Hunt,  MHSOT, OTR/L

Image Courtesy Pixabay/Title Added

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