'No one will leave the chatroom in case something is said about them while they are not there'
A LEADING expert has warned parents need to take action to keep their children out of the clutches of cyberbullies.
Adrienne Katz, who has carried out a number of studies into bullying, also revealed that she expected new national guidelines on bullying to be issued to teachers by the Department of Education this September.
Ms Katz, who runs her Youthworks organisation in London, has visited 220 Irish schools in the past six months, giving advice on dealing with bullies.
She also warned that so-called 'sexting' had become an epidemic, where young teens take and share inappropriate pictures of each other.
Ms Katz told the Irish Independent parents can help defeat bullies by simply talking to their children.
"Before this sort of technology, children could usually get a break from the bullies over the summer holidays, but now they can be tracked and abused 24/7.
Ms Katz, who has carried out several studies with Oxford University into the effects of cyberbullying, said that chatrooms on phones and tablet devices were now used more often than internet sites like Facebook.
"You will have a group of classmates and others all in there chatting together and that's often where the bullying starts," she said.
"Smaller groups within those chatrooms will pick on others.
"It gets to the stage that no one ever wants to leave the chats. Most don't want to leave in case something is said about them while they are away."
She said all-night conversations involving primary school children were not unusual.
Many arrive at school the next day grumpy and tired, and teachers and parents needed to look out for those signs.
She said schools that banned phones or tablets were failing to address the issue.
"There's this idea in many schools that a ban during school hours covers them; that after school hours it is not the responsibility of the school anymore. Well that's the wrong attitude."
Ms Katz met Department of Education officials in Dublin last week to brief them on how she thinks new guidelines should operate.
"I don't know what they will recommend but I do hope that teachers implement whatever they come up with," she said.
She said the two latest crazes affecting children here could be easily tackled.
"One of them is the huge number of chain letters that are sent out," said Ms Katz.
"Children are told that if they don't send them on to 20 other people, their parents will die, or some other threat. This is nonsense and parents need to know about it so that their children aren't worrying needlessly.
"The other more serious issue is sexting. Girls asked to pose for inappropriate photographs must say 'no'. Boys will often say things like 'if you loved me, you'd do it' and girls need to be strong enough to say 'if you loved me, you wouldn't ask'."
The cyberbullying expert says there is "one magic ingredient" to solving the problem – parents talking to their children.
"Parenting that includes clear rules about behaviour while being supportive and emotionally warm can prevent victimisation," said Ms Katz.