Ireland is playing 'catch-up' when it comes to child safety online, say experts

Ireland is playing 'catch-up' when it comes to child safety online, say experts

Children's rights groups are calling for the establishment of a Digital Safety Officer to protect children online.

A number of charities have joined forces to put pressure on the new Government to do more for child safety on the web.

They are concerned that children are being exposed to sexual exploitation, inappropriate content and extreme dieting online.

Chief Executive of the ISPCC John Church says a Digital Safety Officer is crucial to protect children.

"If you look at all broadcasting media - radio, TV, outdoor - they are all regulated. You cannot simply put up inappropriate or harmful communications through TV and other forms of media so why should the online environment be any different?"

Speaking today on Safer Internet Day 2020, Jack Deacon, Deputy Director of said: "The blurred lines between children and young peoples’ online and offline experiences require a nuanced and proactive response and quite frankly Ireland is playing catch-up when we should be leaders in the area.

"A digital or online safety commissioner is urgently required to both regulate the online space, make it a safer place for our children and young people, and coordinate an effective education programme for children and parents.

"There is cross-party agreement on the solution, the incoming Government needs to ensure these solutions are implemented without delay."

CyberSafeIreland surveyed 2,300 schoolchildren between eight and 12 and found that over 30% had experienced something that upset them in the past year.

Almost one-fifth of these students (19%) reported that they had kept what had happened to themselves, failing to tell a parent or trusted adult that they had encountered the material.

CEO of CyberSafeIreland, Alex Cooney said that this information should be a wakeup call for the next Government "that we must get to grips with children's internet use and access".

"There have been plenty of encouraging promises made in parties’ election manifestos, but the proof of their commitment will be seeing these translated into a Programme for Government with clear action points and timelines to both protect and empower our children in the online world.”

Facebook - which works with groups such as SpunOut, The National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at DCU, Pieta House and Jigsaw - has shared their Online Safety Tips for Parents to mark Safer Internet Day 2020.

Online Safety Tips for Parents

Start a conversation with your child early, before they are on social media

Start talking to your children about technology, before they hit 13 when they are allowed on social media.

If your teen is on Facebook or Instagram, consider friending or following them.

Let your teen know that the same rules apply online as apply offline

Just as you might tell your child to look both ways before crossing the road or to wear a helmet while riding their bike, teach them to think before they share online or accept a friend request from a stranger.

Instagram offers many tools to keep teens safe online including a feature that notifies people when their comment may be considered offensive, so they can rethink before posting

Ask your teenager to teach you

If there’s a service your teen is using, and you have no idea how it works - ask them to show you.

Each conversation is an opportunity to talk about issues of safety, privacy and security.

This way you’re empowering them to show you how something works which may be a nice novelty for them!

Identify and seize key moments

For example, when your child gets their first mobile phone, it's a good time to set ground rules.

When they are old enough to join Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites, it's a good time to talk about safe sharing.

Help them manage their time online

Practice what you preach. If you set time restrictions on when your teen can use social media or be online (for example no texting after 10pm), follow the same rules.

Ireland is playing 'catch-up' when it comes to child safety online, say experts

Help them to check and manage their privacy settings

Once your teen has set up a social media account, they can use tools and settings to help them manage their accounts.

Facebook has privacy controls around friend requests, post sharing, location sharing, etc.

Tell them to report if they see something they are concerned about

As we would in real life, we should treat each other with empathy and respect on social media.

For that reason, Facebook has developed a set of rules that define what is and isn't okay to share online.

Facebook and Instagram also provide the ability to report every single piece of content online. Anything that violates the rules will be removed.

Reporting is completely anonymous, so encourage your loved ones to report any content they are concerned about.

Ireland is playing 'catch-up' when it comes to child safety online, say experts

Make it a shared experience

You can have fun together capturing and editing pictures and videos by adding filters or using the augmented reality features like bunny ears!

You could ask them what their favourite thing is to do online - perhaps it’s gaming, or talking to their friends, or sharing photos together.

You could talk about what you like to do online, and this way you’re sharing technology together - a great conversation starter!

Trust yourself

Typically, you can adopt the same parenting style for your teens's online activities as you do for their offline activities.

If you find that your teen responds best to a negotiated agreement, create a contract that you can both sign. Or, maybe your teen just needs to know the basic rules.

Be mindful of age restrictions

Facebook and Instagram require everyone to be 13 years old before they can create an account (in some countries, this age limit may be higher dependent on local laws).

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