Helping children with SEND manage and understand misinformation

How can you help children with SEND manage misinformation? With so many sources of information online, it can be difficult to know what is reliable and what isn’t. Our expert panel shares their thoughts and advice on the topic below.

Dr Elizabeth Milovidov, JD

Law Professor and Digital Parenting Expert
Expert Website

How can parents help support children with SEND and other vulnerabilities in navigating reliable information online?

Understanding what is trustworthy or unreliable online is becoming more difficult as technology evolves seamlessly and what was once fantastical can now look alarmingly real.  If adults have trouble navigating reliable information online and unintentionally share falsehoods and misunderstandings, imagine how much more challenging this can be for children?

Parents and carers must first remember that children are trusting and may believe what they see online.  Children with SEND and other vulnerabilities may also have additional challenges with recognizing risks and/or struggles with the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate online responsibly.

This does not necessarily mean that more risk will lead to more harm, but parents and carers have to be available to provide SEND children with practical strategies while browsing online

  • Keep things in perspective and provide access to appropriate materials
  • Understand how parental controls can best work to provide guardrails on the digital highway
  • Find reliable information sites and show your child how to use them
  • Let your child know that you are always available to listen and support them when online

Children with SEND and other vulnerabilities may at times need a little extra online guidance, but the results will be the same – children who can use online resources responsibly and safely.

Karl Hopwood

Independent online safety expert
Expert Website

How might vulnerable children be impacted by misinformation and disinformation online and what can parents do to limit these impacts?

We are seeing a significant amount of misinformation and disinformation online at present – particularly related to the conflict in Ukraine and it is important to distinguish between the two.

Misinformation refers to the sharing of misleading or false content with good intentions – i.e. the person who shared it believed it to be true and thought they were being helpful by sharing it. Disinformation refers to content that is shared in order to mislead or influence the way someone thinks or behaves. This can be done on a large scale and can be state sponsored in some cases.

Many young people are viewing content being shared by those who are caught up in the conflict in Ukraine, and it is incredibly powerful that individuals are able to use social media platforms in order to share with the world the situation that they are in. However, it can be difficult to verify the authenticity of such content, and it is very important that we don’t just assume that something is genuine (or indeed fake) just because it triggers our emotions.

A recent UNICEF publication noted that “Children may be particularly vulnerable to mis/disinformation because their maturity and cognitive capacities are still evolving, including the development of ‘different psychological and physiological motivations, and with them, different rights and protections.’”

For vulnerable children in particular, they can often take what they see at face value and believe it to be true. It is important that parents provide opportunities for discussions with their children and make clear that whilst not everything online is true, it can be difficult to spot what is real and what is fake. Children and young people should be encouraged to ask if they are unsure and reminded not to share content if they are unsure about its authenticity.

How might vulnerable children be impacted by misinformation and disinformation online and what can parents do to limit these impacts?

We can all be susceptible to misinformation and disinformation – particularly if there is something that is worrying us and we’re searching for answers. How many of us have diagnosed ourselves with a dreadful disease after late-night scrolling?!

What worries us most is often our place of vulnerability. For example, if we are seeking love, connection and belonging, while there are many wonderful supportive communities, there are also individuals and groups who will exploit that need for connection. Children can also be at risk on online forums where people might share well-meaning advice that could actually cause harm.

To limit impacts, explain that not everything you see and read is fact. Keep an eye on the apps your child uses and their search history, talk to them about what they’ve seen and heard. Whatever is on your child’s mind, they may take to a search engine (like Google) or seek the help of strangers. Make sure you get in first with your own advice and work together to find sources of support that are safe, viable and can be trusted.