Sunday 22 July 2018

'I am absolutely appalled' - Mother of girl (9) who came home from school with booklet produced by TD containing graphic 'sexting' terms

'Parents need to have meaningful engagement with their children about smartphones and the internet: kids should understand the reasons they are not allowed unrestricted access' (stock photo)
'Parents need to have meaningful engagement with their children about smartphones and the internet: kids should understand the reasons they are not allowed unrestricted access' (stock photo)
Stock Image
The front page of the booklet produced by Alan Farrell

Sean Nolan

A mother has said she is 'absolutely appalled' that a booklet on internet safety for children including a glossary of 'sexting' terms was given to her nine-year-old daughter in school.

Trisha told Joe Duffy on Liveline on RTÉ Radio1 that she was shocked when she came home from work to find the booklet on the kitchen table.

"It was sent home to me by my daughter's school and I had been informed via an email the day before that it would sent home in the schoolbags in an envelope," Trisha said.

"Obviously I didn't know the content of the booklet. By the time I got home from work my daughter had taken it out of her bag, left it on the table, it had been opened and she had read some of the material, including some of the items on page 15 which were absolutely horrendous."

Called 'Cyber Safety for Parents and Guardians' and produced by Alan Farrell, a Fine Gael TD for Dublin Fingal, the 20-page booklet outlines information on Facebook, Snapchat, Tinder and Kik for parents and guardians to be aware of, with a particular focus on cyber bullying.

It also includes a glossary on 'text talk' on Page 15 which explains the text shorthand of a number of graphic terms.

Glossary.jpg

"You can imagine my first reaction when I got in to hear from my child minder she had taken it away from her," Trisha added.

"They handed it to her in school, in an envelope, and trusted her not to open it. Why was she given this and why was this handed to her in school and told 'do not look at that'.

"Why was it not sent out directly to the parents or handed to the parents?"

"I am absolutely appalled by the content that is in there, especially page 15. I read it and I was shocked. I am a parent and secondary school teacher so I teach children of this age. I am so upset about it I spoke to my principal and he said he wouldn't put it in a sixth year's bag.

"The content that is in that is normalising what a small minority of children are doing. I know because I teach children every day that this is not something that all children are doing.

"I think it is very irresponsible and an absolute disgrace. I have had a sick feeling since I saw the booklet and my child had access to it."

Mr Farrell, who is also chairman of Children and Youth Affairs Committee, appeared on Liveline before Trisha and he told Joe Duffy that the booklet stemmed from the Office of Internet Safety who have four booklets for parents, guardians and teachers. The booklet he produced was 'an amalgam' of those.

Mr Farrell decided to produce these booklets and distribute them to the heads of the schools in his constituency, which total about 50.

"I had about 6,000 requests for copies. Firstly, it is completely targeted for parents and guardians. It is not a document that has been produced to be handed to a child, particularly a young child. It is produced for parents, guardians and as a teaching aid.

"The interest in it quite surprised me, if I'm honest. The primary purpose of it was to inform parents, guardians and teachers as to what is going on online. Whether we like it [or not] children and young people are being exposed to far worse things online on a daily basis.

"I chose it would be appropriate to distribute it to my schools. Many of the schools decided to make it available in the office and notify parents. Other schools have distributed it home in envelopes, which I think is appropriate. I'm not familiar how it was disseminated in all schools," he added.

Mr Farrell said the entire cost to print the booklet was €500.

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