The first annual report into Irish children’s online behaviour by Irish charity CyberSafeIreland has recently revealed that an alarming number of children have been in contact with strangers online. The type of contact varies from interaction via online games to accepting random friend or follower requests on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
CybersafeIreland, whose founders have backgrounds in cybercrime investigation, forensic psychology and child protection, is a non-profit charity set up in 2015 with the main aim of educating children, teachers and parents alike about navigating the internet in a safe and responsible manner. With social media and the online world becoming an ever more present feature of the day to day lives of people, both young and old, it is important for young people to be aware of the consequences their actions online can have in the real world, along with the dangers of interaction with online strangers. Naturally, not all online interaction and connections are of a harmful or insidious nature, however it is worrisome to note that up to 5% of the children surveyed communicated with strangers on a daily basis.
These findings are based on a survey given to over 240 children aged between the ages of 8 and 13, from over 40 schools across Dublin and Wicklow. The young age of the children engaging in these online activities is the root of most of the concern, which raises the question, is enough being done to teach children about the right kind of online behaviour, or is it being left for them to discover of their own volition? Along with the findings in relation to children’s online activity, CyberSafeIreland reported that despite 84% of teachers covering online safety in class, 64% of teachers surveyed did not feel equipped to teach their students about online activity and safety.
In light of the sheer amount of time young people are spending online – up to 4 hours a day – this is a topic that clearly needs to be more seriously addressed both in and outside the classroom.
The CEO of CyberSpaceIreland Alex Cooney has implored to the Irish government for more serious funding to be set aside for internet safety education in schools, stating “Online safety education needs to be addressed on an ongoing basis and not just during Safer Internet Day or once-off events”.
Speaking of the role parents need to play in their children’s online activities Cooney went on to say “As parents and educators, we need to be doing a lot more to prepare young children for a connected future, enabling them to engage in safe and responsible online behaviour. We also need the Government to prioritise and invest more in supporting appropriate internet safety education to ensure children in Ireland are better equipped to manage the dangers, but also make the most of the opportunities online.”
The need for an official education reform for this area is clear, but in the meantime CyberSafeIreland are doing as much as they can to help schools and teachers, with a particular focus on DEIS schools, on the safe usage of all social media and communications technologies. As well as that, they also have a number of helpful infographics on their website which may be useful for both parents and teachers to help illustrate their points on safe internet usage.