THE weekend changed the lives of one Co Donegal family, tragically and irrevocably.
Having threatened to kill herself following a stream of online bullying, 13-year-old Erin Gallagher from Ballybofey was found dead at home on Saturday night.
I remember when my own daughters, now in their 20s, were bullied as teenagers. Amid the anguish back then, I would not have believed that one day I would be grateful their experiences at the hands of bullies were played out in the old-fashioned way -- in the classroom and on the playground.
Their bullies didn't have access to Facebook, Twitter, myspace, or ask.fm. Smartphones hadn't been invented. If they had, I have no doubt the abuse would have escalated to horrific proportions. Instead, it was reported to schools and gardai, dealt with quickly and firmly, and we all moved on.
The cyber-bully is a far more malevolent entity. He or she can operate in virtual anonymity and, as a survey in Britain showed that 53pc of children did not tell their parents the truth about what they got up to online, you have to ask: would you know if your child was being bullied online -- or even if your child were the bully?
We can't ban Facebook or silence Twitter, but we can and must empower our children and ourselves by getting to grips with social media. Just as importantly, we need to educate our children on the impact that cyber- bullying and text bullying has on victims, so that they don't become the bullies of the future. Irish website www.webwise.ie offers a wealth of information for parents, teachers and students.
Meanwhile, David Girvan, founder of reassureme.com, an advisory website for parents, says: "We need to educate kids at primary school level and teach them how to be responsible on the internet so that, by the time they're in their teens, they know how to behave, they know what's right and wrong in the online community as well as in the real world, and they know how to stay safe.
"If we wait till the teen years to teach these things, we'll be firefighting forever."
It seems particularly cruel and heartbreaking to think that Erin Gallagher knew how to behave online, but her tormentor did not.