Smartphones are not allowed at school, but all 12 boys and eight girls in Niall Moynihan’s class own or have access to one, and most are on a social network.
So with phones and the internet being such a key element of communication in the rural West Cork community near Bandon, learning about online safety has been a focus in recent weeks.
“They send each other messages, and use group texting and there are lots of benefits. But it’s very important to understand the other side as well,” said Mr Moynihan. “We talked about isolation and exclusion, and how leaving somebody out of a text group can be the same as if one person is suddenly left out of a group who always talk to each other in the yard.”
The class has been using the My Selfie cartoon lessons — available to all primary schools from Webwise Ireland — to teach children about the emotions that drive bullying, and the impact on victims, particularly of cyberbullying.
“They’re heading to secondary school next year. Social media has been in the news an awful lot over a number of years, particularly with cases up the country where we’ve seen the awful consequences of cyberbullying,” he said.
In one My Selfie cartoon, a picture taken in a school science lab is manipulated by a student and shared online, turning the boy in the photo into the subject of jokes and taunting. It helped the Kilbrittain NS pupils learn about the care needed with photo-sharing sites.
“I found out that a picture can go viral in a matter of minutes. We learned to be more careful on the internet and think about what you’re putting up,” said Conor Brennan.
His classmate, Katie Murphy, was surprised by the speed at which the picture spread, and the idea that people could change a photo to make it funnier.
But while learning about respect for each other, a key message during the school’s Friendship Week, they are also encouraged to enjoy the benefits of new technology.
“The best thing is being able to contact your friends, and show them things you’ve seen,” said Katie.
Mr Moynihan said it is hard for schools to keep up with changing technology and emerging methods of bullying. “When we went to school, the only nature was physical and name-calling, but it’s a lot more difficult to police now. Kids might only be in school until ten-past-three, but they can be in contact with each other 24 hours a day. And if they’re upset in class about something that happens outside school, it’s very much something that should concern us as teachers.”
The My Selfie programme was launched as part of Safer Internet Day, aimed at primary pupils in response to the rapid changes in how children use the internet and greater access to smartphones and tablets. “With evidence that children are going online at ever-younger ages, and that their use is increasingly mobile and away from supervision, new responses like this are required,” said Simon Grehan of Webwise.ie.
In the last year, 30,000 students at 190 second-level schools have become involved in Webwise.ie’s Safer Internet Day #Up2Us initiative, developing anti-cyberbullying campaigns.
With nearly one-in-three girls under 13 owning a smartphone and over half of boys aged nine to 12 owning a games console, it is little wonder that 60% believe they know more than their parents about the internet.
Here’s what some of them told researchers:
“My dad wouldn’t know how to use a smartphone, not at all. Like one day, he went onto my Facebook page and he did not have a clue what is going on and what to do with that...I don’t even know how he got on to my page at [sic] the first place.” — 16 year-old girl.
“I had my Facebook account when I was 8 and my mom set it up for me.” —12-year-old boy.
“I prefer my phone, because you can ring people, text people, I can play games and having internet, like if I am in town, I can have a map, I know where I am going.” — 13-year-old girl.
And parents know their weaknesses:“I have my phone here and I only know a few things like call, text,..., but my daughter, she knows so many things - photos, Photoshop and other..... I have to ask her sometimes to tell me what to do on my iPad.” - mother of girl aged under 12
But not all parents, it seems, are behind the times.
“My parents are even worse, especially my father. He’s obsessed with technology stuff. He’s always on it. So he can’t really tell me.” — 15-year-old girl.
Children also spoke about negative experiences online.
“Yes, I saw some creepy stuff, there is page called ‘creepy’ thing, but I do not go on there. I don’t really go there, I don’t click on it.” — 13-year-old boy.
“I feel very uneasy, not comfortable at all, I don’t want to see it again, that’s why I looked around and tried to figure it out how to avoid to see those, until I know how to filter it out.” — 13-year-old girl
“I cried, it was an old friend, who was jealous of me that because I went to this new school and she saw I have more friends and so, she was very jealous, she said bad things about me like I was ugly and I wasn’t spending much time with her, and I spend more time with other new friends not with her.”— 13-year-old girl