Coronavirus has meant that more people are spending time at home. This means children and young people are more likely to be spending a significant amount of time online.
The internet has lots of fantastic resources and offers spaces to be social with friends and family through gaming, social media and interactive chats. But it’s important to be aware of the risks of the internet and be sure that you and your family are using it safely.
If anything online makes you even slightly uncomfortable, it’s important to know there is guidance available to support you and your family. You can always talk to someone if you are worried, and you should report inappropriate content or scams.
To help you talk to your child about staying safe online you might use Ambitious about Autism’s easy read guide.
Upsetting Coronavirus content
Seeing news about Coronavirus online may be upsetting for children and young people with autism. The amount of information being posted about the virus can feel overwhelming, as well as the overuse of terms like ‘pandemic’ and ‘crisis’ which can cause heightened anxiety and distress about what is happening.
There is also the risk of reading fake news with exaggerated content. If you feel this is affecting you or your child it is important to talk about why it is upsetting and support ways to reduce the amount of Coronavirus content consumed.
Childline shares tips about how to stay safe online and how to spot fake news.
Talking to strangers
Some games are designed to be played in teams or against other people. This means young people can easily play with people they don’t know and haven’t met. They can communicate using voice, video or text chat. Some gamers use voice chat to discuss tactics and many games have a chat room.
Using public platforms to research and discuss topics, such as Reddit and other online communities like Ambitious about Autism’s Talk about Autism forum, allow you to speak to people with similar interests. Public forums and platforms are open to anyone.
Consider using parental controls to minimise contact with people that you don’t know in the real world and talk to your child about whether they really know the people they might be communicating with online. Sadly, those who want to groom and exploit children use many tactics to win their trust quickly, or put them in a position where they are afraid to seek help from family or friends. Talking to your child and agreeing rules in advance can help.
There is a risk to any child or young person, but those who are already more vulnerable, for example because of loneliness or a learning disability are more susceptible to being groomed or scammed on these platforms.
Interactive media such as online games or forums gives people the opportunity to be crueller than they might be face to face. Sometimes, children and young people may be exposed to name calling, abusive language and excessive criticism. These are all forms of cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying can make you feel very overwhelmed and isolated. The person being bullied might be reluctant to let family anywhere near their mobile or laptop and might show increased signs of being distressed, anxious and withdrawn.
If you are concerned about cyber bullying, you can contact Bullying UK on 0808 800 2222.
As a parent you can also find information on cyber bullying and tips on how to bring up the issue with your child at Internet Matters.
When talking to your child or young person about staying safe online you can also encourage them to be polite and not say anything online that they wouldn’t say to someone face to face.
Spending time online gives children and young people the opportunity to explore the internet. Sometimes people come across explicit content that might not be age appropriate. Social media posts, webpages and links or images received online can include inappropriate information and images. This can include violent images, graphic descriptions, hate sites and more. Seeing unsuitable content might cause feelings of shame, guilt, confusion or even excitement.
It is important you know where to go if you or your child come across inappropriate content.
Scams and phishing
Scams are sophisticated and difficult to spot, especially for children and young people. Scammers usually want to know your personal information or ask you to send money. It is important to know how to spot a scam.
Some scammers choose to explicitly target children and young people, especially those that seem to be more vulnerable or spend a significant amount of time online. It is important that you and your family never give out your personal or financial details to anyone online. Some scammers try to get this information from you in a more subtle way, by seeing objects around you in a video chat (school certificates on a pinboard for example), through quizzes, or asking questions in conversation that might give them the answers to common security questions (like your pet’s name, place of birth).
Phishing attempts also try to get access to your sensitive data. Many attempts are made through email. If you’ve spotted something that looks suspicious report it to the Government’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a new service launched at the end of April by the National Cyber Security Centre – in less than a week over 12,000 reports had been made and 395 scams brought down.
If you have lost money tell your bank and report it as a crime to Action Fraud.
Staying up to date
To stay updated with the latest social networks, apps and games that your child, young person or you are check NSPCC’s Net Aware for the latest safety news and information.
Also take a look at the Government’s National Cyber Security Centre Cyber Aware campaign to support during Coronavirus, and a whole range of topics for home and work, for example online gaming, video conferencing and online shopping.
London Grid for Learning - for support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online
Parent info - for support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online
Thinkuknow - for advice from the National Crime Agency to stay safe online
UK Safer Internet Centre - advice for parents and carers