Survey: 37% of 8 year olds have a mobile

PRIMARY school principals have asked for a revision of the Stay Safe programme to cover text bullying after a survey showed 37% of eight year olds now own mobile phones.

The striking finding is contained in the results of a survey which also showed that a quarter of eight year olds bring their mobile to school, even though most schools have a policy of either not allowing phones to be turned on during class hours, or banning them altogether.

Mobile phone ownership increases with age, with the survey of 500 parents finding that all 14 year olds owned phones.

The Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) said school anti-bullying policies such as the Department of Education’s Stay Safe programme should be revised to include mobile phone bullying.

IPPN spokesman Larry Fleming said he was “mildly surprised” at the level of phone ownership among eight year olds but said children were increasingly likely to avail of such technology.

The IPPN provides templates for anti-bullying policies which schools can use but Mr Fleming said the department’s Stay Safe manual should be upgraded.

“There is no doubt about it. It has presented an area of concern that perhaps Stay Safe should address.”

That view was echoed by Dr Stephen Minton of Trinity College Dublin’s Anti-Bullying Centre, who said schools need to upgrade their anti-bullying policies if they have not already in order to counter areas such as online and text bullying.

Tony Cullen, the chief executive of Irish company Virtual Mobile Application Development, which provides anti-bullying software for mobiles, said many parents only discover their child has been receiving abusive texts after they notice similar patterns on Facebook or other social network sites.

He said that while many of its customers are parents from overseas downloading the software, there is often “a rush” on applications at the start of the school year, at Christmas and at Confirmation time.

“What we find is that where parents find their kids are being bullied on Facebook then they look at their phones and see the abusive texts,” he said.

However, Cara Twohig of Vodafone said few complaints had been registered by parents regarding text bullying, while Dr Minton said online bullying was more prevalent.

The survey, conducted on behalf of Tesco Mobile, showed most parents who participated were happy for children to have a mobile as it allows them to keep track of their whereabouts.

It found children aged between eight and 11 top up by an average of €10 per month, while teens from 13 to 16 years top up by an average of €20 per month.

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