THE cyberbullying scourge is getting worse, according to a survey by second-level school principals.
There has been an alarming rise both in the number of victims and pupils who admit to bullying.
The spread of cyberbullying coincides with the digital revolution, most recently the popularity of mobile devices such as smartphones, now owned by over 60pc of Irish teenagers.
Cyberbullying is a more insidious form of traditional bullying because it allows the perpetrator to remain anonymous, while the use of technology makes it difficult for the target to escape it.
The recent survey carried out for the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) provides disturbing evidence of how the problem is growing, despite ongoing efforts to combat it.
Among the worrying findings is the almost doubling in the proportion of pupils who engaged in cyberbullying, when compared with similar research a year ago. It found that 9pc, or almost one in 10, admitted to cyberbullying – up from 5pc in 2013.
Meanwhile, 16pc said they have been the target of online or text bullying – a rise of one-third on the previous year.
The survey highlights how parents may not be fully aware of the extent to which the children are suffering, with only 12pc reporting that a child of theirs has been a victim of cyberbullying.
It also found that 26pc of parents monitor their children's activities online on a daily basis, while 15pc never monitor.
The older the parent, the less likely they are to keep a check, with 64pc of under 35-year-olds monitoring their children's online activity weekly, reducing to 40pc among the over-45s.
NAPD director Clive Byrne described the growing prevalence of cyberbullying as "quite disturbing", adding that the annual survey – conducted in January and February among 1,000 parents and young people by Amarach Research – provided a valuable insight into the ever-changing attitudes and prevalence of cyberbullying among second-level pupils.
The findings are consistent with research by Dublin City University, which found that 14pc of students reported that they had been cyberbullied, while 8pc admitted cyberbullying. Another survey by NUI Maynooth reported that 17pc of students were victims of cyberbullying, while 9pc admitted carrying it out.
Mr Byrne said cyberbullying posed a clear and present threat to the collective morale of schools. He added the survey clearly indicated that the less parents monitored their children's online activity, the less they knew.
Arising from the findings, the NAPD will shortly make a formal submission to the Government's Internet Content Advisory Group, which will include a recommendation for a National Cyberbullying Policy, encompassing government departments and public sector agencies.
NAPD is also seeking increased training for parents, particularly older parents, and a module on cyberbullying as part of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum, to be taught at junior and senior cycles.
And the principals also want the Department of Education to develop a standardised template to allow schools to self-evaluate the effectiveness of existing cyberbullying initiatives within their school.