As part of Safer Internet Day 2018, a group of teachers from St. Louis Secondary School traveled to Google's European Headquarters in Dublin to take part in a digital safety seminar for children and teens growing up in Ireland today.
Safer Internet Day, which took place on Tuesday 6, February, is an EU wide initiative that promotes a safer internet for all users, especially young people.
Dundalk Grammar School, St. Nicholas National School and St. Malachy's Girls School also took part in the Safer Internet Day, delivering talks to teens and younger children about the perils of growing up in a digital world.
Younger children are also exposed to dangers on the internet. As a result, Google has developed a program about online safety for primary school-aged children called Interland, which can be played by children accompanied by their teachers or parents.
Orla Drumgoole, one of the teachers who attended the symposium explained: “Most younger teenagers are on Snapchat and Instagram. Facebook is for older teenagers.
“Nowadays you can ‘vlog’ or video blog via snapchat and this is the new craze. We cannot stop young people from engaging online, but we can help them to be safer. Over the next few months we will engage with the Digital Citizenship course which Google has created to teach our students safe ways online.
“However parents have to play a part too – many students take their phones to their bedrooms at night, and all the experts recommend the opposite.”
“Children are sharing personal content online all the time. I always suggest that if you wouldn’t like your granny or your teacher to see it you shouldn’t post it,” the fifth year head added.
There is immense pressure on young children and teens now, especially young girls, to look their best at all times on social media and it's contributing to mental health issues.
Speaking on RTE Radio 1 last year, Dr Harry Barry, GP and psychotherapist said he had no doubt that technology has paid a huge part in elevating the stresses to levels he now classes as an “anxiety epidemic”.
Earlier this month, Dr Barry echoed these sentiments when he spoke at an event in Dublin.
He said: "Anxiety is probably the greatest epidemic that we are suffering at the moment in terms of mental health.
“It has always been there but we are seeing a particular acceleration in people of school- and college-going age, from 12 up to 25."
The Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) commissioned a survey on children's mental health and emotional well-being this year and found more than a quarter of school principals reported a spike in anxiety among their pupils.
A parent (who did not wish to be named) and has two teenage girls attending a local secondary school, spoke to the Dundalk Democrat about the challenges parents face in keeping their children safe online.
“There are so many challenges for parents now as children grow up with technology,” she said,
“I think it's that time in the evening when they have their phone in their bedroom, you don't know what they're looking at. That's what I worry about.”
The mum also told how she felt communication was key for parents trying to help their children and teens to navigate the online world safely.
“Being open and talking to your children is a crucial part of helping them stay safe online. I really think parents need to engage with technology and understand it so that they know the dangers themselves,” the mum said,
“I have a Snapchat and an Instagram myself, just to see how they work. Once you're knowledgeable about it, then you can understand what way your children are using the platforms.”
The local mum added: “I think young people add a lot of friends on Snapchat who they might not know, they are complete strangers, and then they forget that they are sharing all this content with a large group.
“Parents need to know that if their child's location services are left on, their Snapchat friends can see their location at any time. We need to be asking our kids questions,” she said.
The local mum cited Webwise.ie as an excellent tool for providing advice for parents, children, and teens. The site provides information, advice and free educational resources addressing a range of internet safety issues and concerns. They also offer advice and support for young people, teachers, and parents.
“Some of the material on Webwise can be provocative, but that's the reality of what's happening. There are 12-year-olds sharing provocative selfies and young kids sending sexts. Parents need to be aware of all this and stay clued-in,” the mum explained.
“I think the best way is to keep the lines of communication open, so your kids feel they can come and tell you anything.”
And the local woman added: “It is difficult because you want them to have access to information online, but you also want them to be safe.”
St. Louis teacher, Orla Drumgoole, explained how the curriculum has changed to reflect these pressures modern teens are subjected to.
“It's all about appearances now with social media – it's frightening. With the New Junior Cycle, wellbeing is embedded in the curriculum and so we are teaching our students resilience – which is what they all need to deal with social media.
“It can be a wonderful servant, but a cruel master. Young people today need to be equipped to deal with the very different world they are growing up in,” the teacher explained.
The local mum-of-two teenagers (mentioned previously in this article) urged parents to “have the talk” about digital safety with their children.
Screen Time: Advice for Parents
1. Set rules: Talk to your child on when you think it is appropriate and inappropriate to use screens. Agree times when screens are allowed and not allowed in the home.
2. Do as you say: Modelling behaviour is THE most powerful way you can influence your child’s behaviour.
3. Restrict device use: Depending on the age of your child you may want to set a curfew or ban devices from the bedroom completely.
4. Buy an alarm clock: Charge their phones in your room at night time.This can be a helpful way of giving them a break from the internet.
5. Don't rely on screen to keep kids amused: It's easy to encourage kids to pick up the tablet to keep them occupied. This only confuses rules, stick to the agreed rules.
6. Chat to them: Ask what they do online and encourage them to use their screen time for learning and education.
7. Family activity night: Doing activities together as a family will help implement screen time guidelines and offer fun alternatives.
8. Turn off screens: Turn off screens when not in use, these can be distracting for kids if they are trying to participate in another activity.
9. Join in: Set some time aside to play your child’s favourite computer game and discover the online world together.