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Social media and relationships

As your child grows up, they may want to meet new people and develop friendships outside of their immediate family.

Introduction

As your child grows up, they may want to meet new people and develop friendships outside of their immediate family. Some people will be involved in things like sport, hobby groups or other after school/group activities where they can meet other people with similar interests. For other people, socialising and making friends online might be preferred due to social anxieties, communication difficulties or poor accessibility of community locations.  Some people might not have any interest in meeting new people. All of this is OK.

For children today, social media and technology is an important part of the way they develop skills including:

  • digital media literacy
  • collaborative learning
  • relationship development and maintenance
  • creativity
  • communication

Children can surprise us with how quickly they adapt to new technology and social media platforms. This might be concerning for parents,  particularly if they did not grow up with internet-connected devices themselves. Parents are often concerned about bullying and abuse occurring online and may want to block or restrict their child from socialising online.

It’s important to remember that digital technology like social media is now an ingrained part of how children and young people connect with their peers, including children with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder. It is impractical to cut your child off platforms where the majority of their peers are interacting, and doing so can have negative impacts by limiting their access to information and emotional support.

Supporting your child to navigate social media safely can be a positive step in developing and maintaining relationships. To keep your child safe on social media, it’s important to support them to understand the risks involved and strategies for keeping safe.

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Some people with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder might prefer to socialise and maintain friendships online as they can:

  • access a wide network of peers with varied interests
  • find people outside of their usual social circles and programs
  • find people who have similar life experiences
  • communicate at their own pace with less pressure and social cues compared to face-to-face communication
  • have more control over who they want to communicate with be in control of whether they want to meet a person in real life

All forms of socialising have risks. However, there are particular risks when navigating relationships and social media. These include:

  • lack of privacy over your personal information
  • not knowing exactly who you are communicating with
  • fake profiles and other scams
  • miscommunication with tone and emotion not easily portrayed through typing. Humour and sarcasm can be particularly difficult
  • cyberbullying and online harassment
  • expensive sign-up fees to social platforms (like XBOX live or Nintendo)

Before you start teaching about socialising online, it’s important to educate and support your child to recognise healthy relationships and give them the opportunity to practice social skills and friendship building in person. These skills are the foundations of healthy online friendships. If this is something you would like more information on, check out the relationships section of Planet Puberty.

Next, it’s important to remind your child about public and private concepts. See Public And Private Behaviours. There can be confusion about what behaviours are public and private, especially when there is a screen involved. It is important to emphasise that nothing done online is ‘private’ and that all behaviour on the internet is ‘public’. This is especially important if your child has a device loaned out by their school. Check out Cybersafety for tips on keeping your child safe online.

Some people with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder may also need support in being able to respond appropriately to negative online experiences. It’s important to communicate with your child to find out how comfortable they feel talking to friends online and whether they need any support in communicating.

There are many online platforms where your child can connect with people they know in person, and where they can meet new people. These include:

  • social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and TikTok
  • forums like Reddit or Livejournal
  • streaming channels like Youtube or Twitch
  • gaming servers like Discord
  • games with social channels or the ability to connect with others like Roblox, Minecraft or Fortnite

It’s a good idea to research what platforms your child prefers, how they work and any other important notes about their function. If your child wants to try finding friends online with mutual interests, it can be a good idea to work with them to map out what those interests are and where they can meet people who have those interests. These could include things like groups for special interests (like movies or music) or even communities on gaming platforms (like XBOX or Nintendo)

The eSafety Commissioner has a growing list of popular apps and social media platforms for parents here: https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/esafety-guide

Conversation Starters

I know you’d like to create a (social media platform) account. Let’s sit down and talk about how to stay safe, and what a (social media platform) friend is.
Sometimes people lie about who they are online. How would you make sure you know who you’re talking to when you’re on (social media platform)?
Sometimes people can say hurtful things online, or they might not understand what you are saying. What would you do if someone made you feel bad online?

Strategies for you to try

Help your child set up their accounts and be a safe person with passwords

Most social media platforms require users to be aged 13 and older. If your child shows interest in creating a social media account, go through the process with them so they can ask questions and you can make sure they are putting the appropriate information into the account. As a parent, you are also well placed to be a safe person to look after passwords that might be forgotten. Knowing passwords will also help you supervise your child’s social media usage.

Communicate with your child when you supervise their social media

If you do have the passwords to your child’s social media accounts, it’s important to communicate about when and why you access it. Just like a diary, the contents of instant messaging can be very personal. If you have concerns, involve your child in any monitoring of social media that you do.

Include rules about social media usage in a family tech agreement

Check out the Cybersafety page for information about creating a family technology agreement. Include social media use and apps in the agreement for the whole family to follow. For example, no devices during dinner time or phones staying in the common area while you are asleep.

Talk to your child about what they see on social media

Just as you would talk to your child about what they did at school, ask them about what interesting things they have seen on their social media. Normalising the discussion about interesting videos, comments or pictures your child sees online can help you to monitor the type of content your child is accessing. It also allows you to provide support if your child sees something that is upsetting or that they do not understand.

Create a list of reminders for your young person to refer to when socialising online

Work with your child to develop a list or poster of rules and reminders for them to refer to when using social media. This could include things like:

  • blocking and security settings
  • positive qualities and behaviours of a person who is socialising appropriately
  • things that might lead you to ignore, block or report a person, like swearing, harassment or other invasive online behaviour
protect from abuse

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Introduction to puberty for girls
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