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As our world continues to become overwhelmingly virtual, it can be both a blessing and a curse for ourselves and for our loved ones. The growing use of technology creates more opportunity for us to stay connected with things that are important to us. On the other hand, it also creates a lot of fear and anxiety in people. The virtual world can help us in so many ways, but also hurt us. Individuals with or without intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD) are at risk of becoming victims of online hate, bullying, harassment and other crimes simply by putting too much of their personal information out into the world.

There are several techniques and tips to use while talking about phone safety with people with IDD. Individuals with IDD struggle more with social interaction and appropriate behaviors, both in person and online. It is difficult for them to sometimes read and pick up on social cues and behaviors that come naturally to others. This can inevitably cause users of phones and the internet to put out more information than necessary and allows easy access to online predators.

If you are a caregiver, loved one or friend of an individual with IDD, have the conversation around safety awareness with phones and technology. Part of that initial conversation should be focused on acknowledging that scary things can actually happen, as well as discussing the consequences of actions such as sharing personal information, phones and videos.

Talk about what personal information is safe and what personal information is unsafe to share online and about the pressures that people face while online or on the phone, when talking to a person that they don’t know. Many people meet others online which can lead to regular conversations. Unfortunately, we need to talk about online predators and grooming.  Grooming is when a predator, initiates and cultivates a relationship, either online or in person, in order to build trust.

Since people with IDD have difficulty in reading social cues and behaviors when face to face, it is even more important to have the discussion about online predators.  Point out the signs of a predator: wants your constant attention, asks you where you live, asks for money, uses sexual language when not appropriate, wants to meet with you privately online, knows facts about you because he/she has followed you on other social media platforms, etc.  Use whatever method is best, with the person you are caring for, to make this list visibly posted.

Another way to talk about phone safety is to go through each app with them on their phone to learn how to make all of their social profiles private. Talk to them about GPS tracking and show them how to turn off the location in each app as well as on their phones generally.

All of these safety tips focus on having an honest and open conversation with them about the risks of the internet. It may have to be repeated and it may be a conversation that is had over a period of time. The most important part of phone and internet safety is that you give them the opportunity to sit down and have a discussion about the risks.  Knowledge of how to stay safe while using social media and phones is a step in the prevention of sexual violence.