Irish parents are leaving children as young as five have unlimited access to the internet even though other children are admitting to distress because of what they are viewing.
Children are viewing age inappropriate, violent and/or pornagraphic material online regularly, according to a review of its cases by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Children (ISPCC).
The charity also found that young people are showing a clear lack of empathy online which they don’t display in face to face interactions.
In some cases, the ISPCC says “children think that the purpose of social media is to taunt and insult others and that this is the normal behaviour online”.
In their review, researchers found that staff across the ISPCC had “extensive experience and knowledge of working with young people showing high levels of stress and anxiety created by reputational damage from sexting”.
In some cases, children were the victims of “sextortion”with some being blackmailed for money or asked to send further intimate images or else the “sextorter” would release sexual images of them online or in apps.
Grooming was highlighted as a concern for parents calling the ISPCC Support Line. In one case, a parent phoned the service for support after they were made aware that their child was being groomed by an online paedophile ring.
Young people’s sense of self is also increasingly linked to their online profile and popularity, according to the charity.
“The cyber world has added a new dimension to the development of identity for young people. Children and young people have always sought out validation and recognition of their identities but what is different today is how young people seek that validation and the level of exposure online,” read the case review.
ISPCC chief executive Grania Long said: “Throughout the review, it became clear that a pattern of confusion was emerging for our service users. Children and young people felt unable to control inappropriate activities, they were unsure of where to turn to or how to address concerns. Parents were particularly feeling ill-equipped to deal with issues of safety online”.
“Cyber safety is the child protection issue of our time; we are only beginning to understand the scale and nature of harm and criminal behaviour towards children online. However, we also appreciate the positive impact that technology has on the lives of young people but our work has informed us that our education system and society are failing to prepare children to identify and understand online risks.
The ISPCC is calling on the Government to speed up the publication of proposals to reform criminal law in this area and to introduce a national statutory oversight system, to promote and support positive digital safety.
The case review is being published as the ISPCC hosts a private conference in Dubin Castle about online safety.
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