Parents warned of cyber danger with smartphones

Many parents buying their children a smartphone this Christmas have “no idea” of the potential dangers of the online dangers their child may face.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) pointed out that with one in three children under the age of 16 using a smartphone on a daily basis to access the internet, parents needed to be aware of the dangers of unsupervised internet access for children.

General secretary of the INTO Sheila Nunan said parents had to take responsibility for their children’s safety and could not rely on primary schools exclusively to solve problems such as “stranger danger” and cyberbullying.

“Many parents don’t understand the technology and therefore can’t keep their children safe. Parents need to know how children use phones and computers. Without this it is very difficult to protect children from harm,” she said.

A 2011 study showed that, of the 20m minors who used Facebook, more than one third were younger than 13 and not supposed to be able to use the site. In the same year more than 1m children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on the site.

Ms Nunan said any parent buying a phone should be able to deal with threats and should sign up for a dual access service which would allow monitoring and the restricting of calls and internet access. “Filtering software is available for smartphones. Parents need to make sure it’s installed and not deleted,” she said.

She advised parents to be sure of their children’s privacy settings and that they only connected to other children they know.

“Parents are the primary educators and the first line of defence in the prevention of bullying. Schools can educate children through the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme. In schools children can learn how to safeguard themselves and others when online but parents need to keep their children safe.”

The INTO warned that schools could not deal with every incident and said parents had to know about the mobile phone provider’s customer care or abuse reporting facility. In some cases, the only people able to deal with cyberbullying and child safety issues are the gardaí, the union said.

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