Help children with SEND have positive experiences online

If a child has SEN or disabilities, the online space may provide them opportunities they don’t get offline. Our expert panel shares what trusted adults can do to ensure they are getting the most out of their online experiences while staying safe.

Julia von Weiler

Psychologist & Executive Director
Expert Website

What can parents and carers do to encourage children’s inclusion of those who might be differently abled online?

It is important to take the children and young people by the hand and accompany them. Depending on their abilities, this support can be tighter or broader. For this, it is enormously important that the accompanying adults orient themselves in the digital world and know their way around. This includes looking at online games, dealing with content creators and understanding the dynamics. Visit Connecting Safely Online for further support.

How can parents and carers of vulnerable teens with SEND support their use of social media and other online spaces?

You should work out rules together with teenagers. This also includes rules for the adults, e.g. I don’t simply refuse a game or a social network, but look at it with my child beforehand.

Accompanying adults must then also monitor compliance with the rules. This means staying on the ball, taking an interest and “checking in” on the digital world every now and then.

What can parents and carers do to ensure their vulnerable teens are safe when using social media?

In this case, relatively close control, good rules and always talking about it. Sounds banal; it is not always easy and yet super important for all adults and their children.

Should parents and carers encourage the use of online communities and social media for teens who may be vulnerable?

Good question. I think it always depends on the individual case. And depending on the ability, more or less close monitoring and control applies here as well.

Martha Evans

Director, Anti-Bullying Alliance
Expert Website

How parents and carers can support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to be safe, included and supported online.

There are many positive aspects of being online – connecting with friends, learning new things at the click of a button and, of course, the silly cat videos! Yet, all too often we hear about the negative aspects of being online, including online bullying.

Children and young people with SEND are more likely to experience online bullying and less likely to have support to use the internet. When we’ve spoken with children and young people with SEND, they do report positive experiences of being online, but say it’s often overshadowed by the negative aspects, and this sometimes made them feel fearful or discouraged them from using it.

So many young people are online, and we want to support them to enjoy those positive aspects and ensure they’re safe and feel supported. Here are some of the key ways parents and carers can strike that balance:

  • Familiarise yourself with social network sites, the security settings and the procedures for reporting abusive content
  • Make sure your child knows how to block someone online
  • Speak to your child about who they’re talking to online
  • Let them know they can speak to you if they’re worried about anything
  • Encourage them to think before they share things online
  • Regularly change passwords and let your child know the risks of sharing passwords
  • Try to understand and guide your child’s online behaviour – negotiate and establish boundaries and discuss sensitively the risks
  • Keep evidence of any bullying by saving content
  • Report inappropriate behaviour towards your child to Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). In cases of threats of violence or sexual content, contact the police

For further information, visit the Anti-Bullying Alliance.


Written on behalf of Martha Evans by Liffy McDonnell Bond from the Anti-Bullying Alliance.