Irish anti-bullying service Bully4u found that most of the 500 12- to 16-year-olds it surveyed recently were too embarrassed to tell their parents.
Bully4u director Jim Harding said some children confided in their peers, while others were too afraid to tell anyone.
The use by young children of social networking sites is a growing concern, with up to half of the seven- to eight year-olds surveyed saying they used them — a 20% increase over the past 10 months. The survey also revealed that 90% of 12-year-olds use social networking sites every day — up 10% over the same period.
However, less than 5% of them knew what their “digitial footprint” was. Most are unaware that every time they use the internet, they leave behind information about themselves.
Mr Harding said children could be confronted with their digital footprints when they apply for a college course or job.
Bully4u is also concerned that the number of primary school children establishing fake profiles on social networking sites is increasing. “Bully4u has even come across a situation where a primary school student set up a fake profile for his school principal,” said Mr Harding. “It is a practice that is causing huge distress for those targeted in this way.
“Children are being given computers with which they could run a company because they contain so many applications. Inevitably, they start using social networking sites and, children being children, they make mistakes.”
Mr Harding said a particular concern was chat websites, where strangers from around the world are paired together for webcam conversations.
“It is worrying that children are not receiving any education as to how to correctly use these modern technologies,” he said.
Mr Harding also said a quarter of teenagers sent sexually explicit photographs to each other.
“Boys and girls send pictures to each other when they become romantically involved but when the relationship breaks down we find it is boys, in particular, who send the photograph to their friends and it is destroying girls’ lives,” he said.
Bully4u provides bullying and cyber bullying workshops for primary and post-primary students.