ISPCC warns of cyber threat to children

Children are spending up to five hours a day online and engaging in dangerous activity such as sexting, with their parents unaware of the dangers.

Caroline O'Sullivan.
Caroline O'Sullivan.

The charity ISPCC also warned the current school curriculum was simply not preparing children for the outside world and insisted there was a real need for both an Office of Digital Safety Commissioner and a National Cyber Safety Strategy for Children.

The ISPCC said children were spending First Communion money on smartphones and tablets, with levels of online activity soaring, as the age profile falls and that cyber safety was now “the child protection issue of our time”. The organisation’s director of services, Caroline O’Sullivan, said hours spent online affected children’s social interaction, referring to the “constant barrage of what they should be doing” and questions posed by others, such as “whether they are frigid, whether they are sluts”.

She said one case showed a parent realised her child was being groomed online by a paedophile only by spotting the signs in a computer’s usage history. Ms O’Sullivan said there was a huge need for education for both parents and children.

She also said phones allowing notifications during the night meant children were not getting enough sleep, sexting was “a huge issue”, while another side of this was so-called ‘sextortion’, where the threat of sharing such an image was used against the victim.

ISPCC chief executive Grainia Long emphasised the need for policy change, pointing to education, roles for different departments and Tusla, and the creation of new offences that reflect the online world, such as online harassment, though, she stressed they should not criminalise younger people unless in extreme cases.

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