Friday 9 September 2022

Helping our autistic kids stay safe when using the internet

The internet is a great and exciting place filled with opportunities to explore new ideas, stay in touch with friends, and find new interests. My kids had been playing a variety of age appropriate games on gaming consoles for years before they really needed and wanted to use the internet.  As a parent, we want to ensure our kids use the internet safely and responsibly as it's a viral source of information for them. 

There are many resources on keeping kids safe online that are helpful for parents looking to keep their children safe while also encouraging them to grow as an individual.  Here's some of things you can do as when they first start using the internet. 

Use a kid-safe browser

There are many different browsers, but some are designed with kids in mind. A safe internet browser instals filters that can block out certain websites that could pose a risk to your child. The websites that are whitelisted will have been previously vetted and deemed to be safe while also allowing you to whitelist your own websites too. They can also track what sites your child visits and store a log of this information so you can see their browsing history. Kid-friendly browsers are a great way to help your child navigate the internet while still ensuring they stay safe, and they can even be used on smartphones and tablets.

Establish ground rules for online behaviour

If you are able to sit down with your child and discuss what online behaviour should look like and talk about things like bullying, privacy, screen time, and more. Establishing rules for your child's online behaviour will help ensure they stay safe online. It will also help you feel more confident in your child's online exploration because you know their expectations. Some topics to discuss when establishing ground rules for online behaviour include:

Appropriate friend requests: It's essential to select which friends your child is allowed to accept friend requests from. 
Privacy settings: What they should and should not post on social media. 
Age-appropriate content: The difference between appropriate and inappropriate content 
Screen time: How much time your child can spend on their devices

Change your privacy settings

When you set up your child's online accounts, you can change the privacy settings to high. This will help make sure your child's information is not publicly available online.  Doing this will help your child understand the importance of privacy settings while teaching them how to use them.  You might need to do this on your browsers, social media accounts, email accounts, and location-enabled gaming apps they might play on too.  I found lots of great online parent guides for all the different social media platforms and gaming guides when we went into lockdown and my kids started spending a lot more time online. 

What about if things go wrong?

This book by Katherine Hill called 'Left to their own devices' was a great read for a parent when a child already spends time online. The book covered all the things I'm concerned about now my 14 year old spends hours locked away in his room with his only real interest being things he does on his phone.

WhatsApp and youtube are the top of the charts especially when mixed with his special interest in Formula One. But what about online bullying, sexting or accidentally access online porn? Yes, I'm petrified just typing those out. What I really liked about Katherine's book is that each chapter on some of the scary and not-so-scary parts of being online has a helpful section about 'what parents can do' and in some cases 'what to do if it goes wrong'. These are actually really helpful and make me feel like there is something I can do in a place I feel a bit out of control.

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