Fianna Fáil Seanad Group Leader, Senator Catherine Ardagh has said that we must equip young people, their parents and teachers with the information and supports required to use and explore the internet safely.

A recent study carried out by CyberSafeIreland discovered that 179 teachers in schools across the country dealt with over 200 incidents of cyberbullying in the past 12 months. Almost 70% of these teachers did not feel equipped to teach online safety.

Commenting on the findings, Senator Ardagh said, “The increased prevalence of social networks, smartphone apps, and near constant web access presents increasing challenges for those trying to avoid experiencing bullying online.

“The expansion of this burgeoning online industry has imposed pressure on young people to conform and upload their lives on social media, leaving them open to altogether new levels of scrutiny, criticism and teasing. This can be deeply distressing for most.

“A frighteningly high number of Irish young people have been or are being abused and harassed via the web. Cyberbullying has become a major factor in producing negative or poor perceptions about personality and body image among our younger generation.

“Apps such as ‘Sarahah’ which has 20 million users worldwide and appeals predominately to Irish teenagers, facilitates anonymous comments about users and allows some school children to bully others. Other popular apps have location tracking which make it easier to follow a person’s movements. My main concern would be that many parents are unaware of this potentially dangerous setting.

“The ever evolving digital space means that much of the advice previously provided to young people, their parents and teachers is now outdated and impractical.

“We need to encourage open discussion to help young people challenge the distorted attitudes towards maintaining an online presence.

The Dublin based Senator added, “This latest study also revealed that 16% of those under 13 years old spend more than four hours online daily which makes them even more exposed to unsafe content or features. While bullying was once confined to a number of hours a day in the classroom or playground, the accessibility of social media makes it virtually impossible to escape.

“It is crucial that we explore new ways of engaging children and young people, as well as their parents, guardians, and teachers, on the issue of internet safety.

“The conversation about how to stay safe online needs to start now,” Senator Ardagh concluded.