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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Parents warned over 'secret' world of cyber-bullying

Alan O'Keeffe

Published 15/04/2014 | 02:30

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Members of the Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland at their National Council, which took place at the weekend. The Girl Guides have been urged to speak out on issues that affect them.
Members of the Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland at their National Council, which took place at the weekend. The Girl Guides have been urged to speak out on issues that affect them.
Dr Conor Mc Guckin (left), School of Education, at the public forum on cyberethics at Trinity College. Picture: Arthur Carron
Dr Conor McGuckin, School of Education, at the public forum on cyberethics at Trinity College. Picture: Arthur Carron

YOUNG victims of cyber-bullying may avoid telling their parents because they are afraid their phone, iPad or laptop could be taken away, an expert has warned.

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Dr Conor McGuckin said parents cannot presume their child is not being bullied on social media just because they have not been told.

Young people may often choose to suffer in silence rather than tell their parents or teachers.

Parents seeking to help their child deal with cyber-bullying need to admit to their child their own lack of understanding of social media and the internet, he said.

This admission may help a parent to have an open conversation about the problem. It is important to make the child feel understood, said Dr McGuckin, a world expert on bullying problems.

Dr McGuckin, assistant professor in educational psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, said that, unlike schoolyard bullying, four out of 10 victims of cyber-bullying respond "instantaneously".

However, rather than reacting immediately to bullying messages, it may be better to "slow down, think about it, and cool off," he told the Irish Independent.

It may be better to switch off the technology, to ignore it, and to seek the advice and support of parents, teachers, and friends, he said.

A parent may find it is better to have an open conversation with a child about a cyber-bullying problem while on a short journey by car, which would not necessitate direct eye contact, he said.

Teachers are now obliged to deal with cyber-bullying under their school's anti-bullying policy. Since last Friday, all schools in Ireland must have a policy that specifically addresses dealing with cyber-bullying and homophobia, he said.

Dr McGuckin addressed a 'Cyber-Ethics Public Forum' at Trinity College, which explored the rapid growth of cyber technologies and the profound influence of the internet on human behaviour.

It was organised as part of the college's President of Ireland's Ethics Initiative.

He focused on how to help children, adults, and educators cope with both the positive and negative issues that new technology brings.

He said: "To understand cyber-bullying, we need to understand the fundamental characteristics of traditional bullying. But we also need to understand the separate, and thorny, issues that are related to the law, technology, marketing, and the modern lives of children and young people.

"Just when society was getting to an understanding of how to deal with 'traditional', or 'face-to-face' bullying in schools, along came the internet, smart phones, and issues related to cyber-bullying.

"As a society, we now have more connected devices in the world than there are humans, and the 'always on' generation are the digital natives and pioneers in this emerging new world," he said.

"However, we must remember that childhood and basic psychological development – emotional development, identity development – still develops at the same rate as when each of us were young; it does not speed up just because of the exponential speed of development of technology."

Irish Independent

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