Saturday 20 April 2019

Cyber-bully alert as we mostly allow children online alone

Greg Harkin

CYBER-BULLIES have hundreds of opportunities every day to torment their victims, new expert research has found.

A survey of 300 children across the country also found that 10- to 15-year-olds are unsupervised for 80pc of their time spent online.

The research was conducted by Niall Mulrine, a computer expert who delivers anti-bullying guidance lectures to students, teachers and parents.

His survey, conducted last month, also found that children in the group:

- Spend between three and six hours per day online.

- Have at least 120 Facebook 'friends' – most of whom they don't know personally.

- Send up to 100 text messages every day.

A second survey, of more than 200 teenagers aged 16 to 18, found that almost all of their time online was unsupervised.

Mr Mulrine said: "I've delivered advice in schools across Ireland in recent weeks and even I was shocked by the level of interaction online and via mobile phones."

Demand for his services have risen sharply following the deaths of Ciara Pugsley (15) in Co Leitrim and 13-year-old Erin Gallagher in Co Donegal.

Both had been bullied on the website, which allows users to post comments anonymously.

Erin's sister Shannon (15) was also found dead just two weeks ago, having apparently taken her own life. And concern about the level of bullying in our schools has escalated again after an international study showed 12pc of 10-year-old pupils are bullied every week.

"The level of interaction online between children is incredibly high," said Mr Mulrine, who runs the website

Mr Mulrine continued: "There are literally hundreds of openings for cyber-bullies and internet trolls to target children every single day.

"Before the internet, the opportunities were mostly confined to schools in the daytime. I was bullied at break or lunchtime – but I knew that once I was home I was safe. This is now a 24-hour issue for children and their parents."

Mr Mulrine said teachers and parents were shocked at the level of internet activity.

One teacher at a school in Co Sligo, who attended one of his courses, told the Irish Independent that cyber-bullying was "destroying" normal school life.

"I spend half my time at school trying to resolve disputes between students who have insulted each other the night before on Facebook," said the teacher.

"Almost every student is online, sometimes into the early hours of the morning, and what they say to each other is often very cruel.

"Some children can cope with that and some can't. As teachers, we are left trying to pick up the pieces."

One issue for younger children is access to Facebook. Mr Mulrine said he came across one eight-year-old whose mother helped her to join the site by falsifying her date of birth. The account was open for all to see.

Meanwhile, an international study showed that 12pc of children in primary school fourth class were bullied every week.

The results of a survey of 4,500 Irish 10-year-olds was published as part of an international study by the International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

Another 25pc said they had a monthly experience of bullying, which could include being called names or having lies spread about them.

Irish Independent

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