Children’s behaviour is becoming more sexualised at a younger age as they are trying to grow up too fast, a leading anti-cyberbullying expert is warning.
Jim Harding, founder of cyber watchdog Bully4U, set-up 10 years ago this month, provides training to both primary, secondary school children and teachers on the dangers of cyber-bullying, said the “the world of the internet is now even less safe than it was as this world reinvents itself so quickly under new guises.”
He said children have virtually stopped using Facebook because their parents are using the social media app meaning children do not want their behaviour to be monitored too closely.
Mr Harding said: “Reviewing the past 10 years, Bully4U has found the internet world for children has changed significantly and there are a lot more predators in the cyber world waiting to prey on unsuspecting children.
“They know that children are using social media platforms at much younger ages and in far greater numbers. The age of 13, largely flouted by social media apps as the common introductory age, is a lie.
“From dealing with thousands of children in classrooms nationwide over the past 10 years, the organisation has found that children as young as nine are regular users of social media platforms.
“Snapchat and Instagram are now the most popular app used by children and younger teenagers, with 80% of 10-year-olds using them. As a result, and due to them not wanting their mums and dads to know what they are doing on social media, children have virtually ceased using Facebook.
“The Snapchat app has given children the false belief that they can send material of a risqué nature and that it will then disappear, which is not the case. This has fuelled a tsunami of sexting amongst Irish children.
“Teenage girls are receiving several requests daily to send nude photos. Bully 4u have been asked to speak about the dangers and consequences of sexting to children.”
Mr Harding continued: “Children’s behaviour is becoming more sexualised at a younger age as they try to grow up too fast. The objective of our children is to have the most friends/likes and they are motivated by the concept of being popular, and as a result, there can be a hierarchy of popularity in schools.
“Four out of five children are playing violent video games which are not age-appropriate and leads to bullying behaviour, while children as young as nine are visiting video chat apps and sites like Omegle, Melon, youlive, Ouvu, Periscope and known predators trawl this sites in their efforts to groom children. These apps did not exist when Bully4U was set-up.
“Ten years ago the advice to parents would have been to monitor children’s usage of the internet by keeping the laptop in the family room, now with several ways of accessing the internet in the home children are still being left to monitor and supervise themselves, despite numerous warnings.
“The toxic anonymous Ask.Fm, the anonymous question-and-answer website has largely been replaced by Saharah which is equally as bad.”
High profile cases of teenagers taking their own lives due to cyberbullying include; 15-year-old Phoebe Prince who died in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 2010 after moving there from Clare, Ciara Pugsley (15) from Dromahir, Co Leitrim and sisters 13-year-old Erin and Shannon (15) Gallagher from Ballybofey in 2012.
Randomised video-chat websites have been in existence since Chat Roulette was launched nine years ago in 2009. Chat Roulette currently has developed an X-rated reputation and the site discourages teenagers from using it.
“I have serious concerns that video-chat websites are being exploited by paedophiles to obtain and coerce images. The State needs to block websites which allow predators to exploit children. There is technology out there to block these sites.”