Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Understanding our children’s online safety

cybersafeIn the last year, the media has shone a spotlight on children’s online safety. From cyberbullying to revenge porn to the celebrity photo hack, the importance of online security has never been more prominent.

Online security issues emphasise the negative aspects of the internet, but for those with disabilities the internet is an essential tool in their daily lives. The US National Organisation of Disability found 48 per cent of disabled people felt that going online significantly increased their quality of life, compared with 27 per cent of non-disabled people. The fact of the matter is the internet isn’t simply a hub to share and source information, but an opportunity to combat isolation and adopt new ways of learning that are catered to individual needs of children from the disabled community. Carers now need to take a proactive approach to ensure that browsing the internet won’t turn sour.

Are our kids more tech savvy than we are?

Recent research from Intel Security revealed that children are more technology savvy in comparison to their parents. Many would think that adults were just, if not more, aware of new technologies than their children, but it seems children are more up-to-date than we think they are. 40% of nine year olds were able to recognise the Snapchat app which allows you to instantly message your contacts compared to just 29% of their parents. Whatsapp was instantly recognised by 53% of 12 year olds as a tool you could instantly message your friends with, compared to just 38% of adults.

The news that children are embracing technology is a great thing, but just because they are more aware of new technology than their parents, it doesn’t mean children fully understand the safety aspects. 34% of children believe that the internet is safe wherever they use it, while 77% of adults are aware of the dangers of connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. It seems that even though adults are less aware of new technology, they better understand the possible consequences of not using it safely.

The worryingly high percentage of children who don’t see the potential dangers of the internet has meant that some parents now expect teachers and those who care for their children to teach them how to stay safe online. Teaching children the best practices for safe online behaviour right from the start of their education will be invaluable as they grow up. We all have a responsibility – parents, teachers and the technology companies – to ensure that children understand the value of personal data and how to keep it private.

What can we do to ensure children are safe online?

Those who care for children can address the issues around online safety by having open conversations with them around the issue. Intel Security’s research found over a third of parents have not made an attempt to speak to their children about what they do online, but having an open conversation in a safe, non-judgemental environment is essential for children to feel comfortable coming to those who care for them for help and advice.

A useful process for these conversations is the ‘STOP, THINK, CONNECT’ principle. Similar to the principle ‘stop, think and listen’ that we teach children when crossing the road, these three easy words will help keep children safe and protect them from potential risks.


Both adults and children need to take the time to consider the risks of what they are doing online and how to spot potential problems before using the internet. Carers need to ensure that a child’s privacy settings are sufficient for them to be safe online and that their password cannot be easily cracked. Discussing what websites the child likes to use and why, can allow adults to see what privacy settings are needed. This stage of the conversation is a great opportunity to check if your children are sharing banking or personal details for example. There are also many fun days out that can help teach children about the impact of the internet and how to stay safe online in a more informal setting. The Bletchley Park education programme organises spy hunts and dynamic code breaking sessions catered for different levels which provide an active way to discover online security.


We know that posting an inappropriate image on social media could be detrimental to our reputation if the wrong person comes across it, and this same web wise thinking must also be taught to children. Children may think that posting an image as a joke is not a big deal, but emphasising that children need to take a moment and think before posting or sharing anything online will ensure that they don’t place themselves in an uncomfortable situation without realising it.


Once the correct security measures have been introduced and adults are confident that those they are caring for understand the potential risks of the internet, children can connect with confidence. The internet will only become more intertwined in our everyday lives in the future, so it is essential to have continuous conversations with kids and ensure that the security measures on their devices are up to standard.

The internet can be liberating for people with special educational needs. Although, the internet has provided countless opportunities for communication and learning, there are still dangers surrounding it. Ultimately, it is essential for carers – be it parents, teachers or whoever – to be confident in taking the reins of the conversation when it comes to their safety and ensure that they have taken the correct security measures to protect a child when browsing online.

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