Parents warned of smartphone dangers

Sheila Nunan

Parents who bought young children smartphones for Christmas need to educate themselves on the risks around cyberbullying, a teachers’ leader has warned.

General secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Sheila Nunan, said she could not think why a primary school pupil would be given a smartphone, but any parent doing so should know the dangers and be able to deal with problems that can arise.

“Many parents don’t understand the technology and therefore lack the ability to keep their children safe online. Parents need to know how children use phones and computers, without this understanding it is very difficult to protect children from harm,” Ms Nunan said.

“Schools have neither the time, competence or remit to tackle every incident of cyberbullying.”

The union boss suggests parents sign up for a dual- access service which allows them monitor activity and restrict calls, as well as allowing internet access to be restricted or barred.

She said parents could contact schools if the bullying involved another pupil and was taking place during school hours.

New school anti-bullying procedures, which Education Minister Ruairi Quinn wants all schools to implement by Easter, expect them to have measures to deal with the effects of bullying outside school time.

The guidance, issued in September, says schools should develop a culture of reporting concerns about cyberbullying.

Ms Nunan said local gardaí are the only people who are able to deal with many cases of cyberbullying, and parents should know the kind of behaviours that might signal a child being a victim.

These include avoiding school, being upset or angry after using the phone or computer, sudden disinterest in computers, or rapidly switching screens when parents enter the room.

Forensic psychologist Maureen Griffin recently told the Irish Examiner that smartphones are really not ideal for children as young as eight. She suggests parents should discuss staying safe with a child before giving them a phone.


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