SOCIAL media has a lot to answer for, but are Facebook, Twitter and sites such as ask.fm primarily to blame for the increasing scourge of cyberbullying? What of the responsibility of schools to protect students online as well as in the classroom? Or should we be focusing our attention on politicians for failing to crack down on internet trolls?
Of course, we need a joined-up solution to a problem that is increasingly posing a clear and present danger to our children; but as parents, the very first port of call has to be at our own front door.
'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' is no longer relevant wisdom in a world where text is the very tool of online vitriol. Only 10 years ago, we could protect our children from offensive behaviour in the playground once they came home from school, but now that social media has breathed new life into bullying, it is a 24-hour problem. The cyberbully can emotionally beat up your child at home, in Granny's house or during a sleepover with friends, and who's there to protect them then?
Few of the parents I know are tech savvy. Many don't even know how to use Facebook, let alone manage privacy settings or blocking functions. Trolls are mythical creatures from Norwegian fairytales, cookies are American biscuits and spam is some kind of potted meat.
We may be blissfully ignorant, yet we bow to pester power and peer pressure to ensure that little Johnny or Aoife are not the only ones among their friends without the latest electronic toy. We are a generation of technological ingenues, lavishing electronic gadgets on our children without thinking of the consequences.
Kids' bedrooms today commonly come equipped with TV, DVD/BluRay player, iPod and, now, a laptop and/or smartphone, giving access to the biggest playground of them all – the worldwide web. But who are our children talking to in this global pleasure park?
A recent survey of 300 children across the country found that 10- to 15-year-olds are unsupervised for a massive 80pc of their time online. That should be surprising, but it isn't. From the time they can walk, our kids can run technological rings around us, but rather than get with the times and learn how to take our place in this whole new world, we remain cocooned in our own comfort zone and leave them to it.
The same research, conducted by computer expert Niall Mulrine, showed that the children surveyed spend three to six hours per day online, have at least 120 Facebook 'friends' – most of whom they don't know personally – and send up to 100 text messages every day.
"Even I was shocked by the level of interaction online and via mobile phones," said Mr Mulrine.
Social networking is part and parcel of teenage life and we can't ignore it, but we have a duty to educate ourselves so that we can encourage our children to use it in a positive way and support them if problems occur.
Another IT expert, David Girvan, founder of reassureme.com, puts it this way: "The digital media age is here to stay, it's changing fast and parents need to stop burying their heads in the sand and get to grips with technology in order to keep their children safe and responsible on the internet."
That may entail going out on some cold winter evenings to attend a course in social media and internet basics, which many schools and colleges provide around the country.
It may involve supervising your child's internet use and putting boundaries in place in terms of the amount of time he or she spends online.
It should also be about encouraging children to explore all the positive, creative, exciting opportunities that the internet offers, in a safe environment. We can't do that in a vacuum. Parents need to go back to school in order to protect our children and keep up with this important part of their lives.
Of course, particularly in light of the three Irish teenagers – Ciara Pugsley and sisters Erin and Shannon Gallagher – who died by suicide in the past three months, the Government, school boards and other external parties must take whatever action they can to stamp out cyberbullying, but parents need to wake up to the fact that we also have an important role to play.
More than ever, we need to keep the lines of communication open, have regular times when the family talk without TV or mobile phones interrupting the conversation, and make our children understand that, whatever horrors today's digital media can throw at them, they can turn to us in times of trouble.