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With 'vulnerable' children contacting strangers, government launches 'internet safety resource' for schools

Most children aged between 8 and 13 own a smartphone.

shutterstock_555730687 Source: Lakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Updated 2pm

THE DEPARTMENT OF Education has launched an ‘internet safety resource’ for teenagers in partnership with the gardaí.

‘Be in Ctrl’ contains three lesson plans, an information pack for school leaders, and will be supported by a Garda talk for schools.

The initiative is part of a wider set of supports, which also require schools ‘to develop policies on smartphone us in consultation with the wider school community, including parents’.

The resource launch comes in the wake of the news that Irish children are putting themselves at risk by contacting strangers online, according to new research.

Regarding Be in Ctrl, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said “we want to ensure our children are kept safe online”.

I’m delighted to launch this resource, which was developed in partnership with An Garda Síochana and I encourage all schools to engage in this very important area.

“Awareness raising of the nature intended, is undoubtedly an extremely important aspect of combating online child exploitation,” said Garda Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, of Special Crime Operations.

0067 Richard Bruton launch PLC programme_90533635 Minister for Education Richard Bruton Source: RollingNews.ie

The benefits that can arise from implementing preventative measures regarding the issue involved, cannot be overstated.  Posting or uploading explicit images or videos on social media, or passing such imagery to others online, is extremely dangerous and has potential to cause devastating and lifelong consequences for children and their families.

 

Parental engagement

Earlier today, figures released CyberSafeIreland, the children’s internet safety charity, show that over one-third of children rarely or never talk to their parents about online safety.

Of this group without parental engagement, over 34% are in regular contact with a stranger online and 50% use social media and messaging apps that are meant to be inaccessible to users under 13 years of age.

“All children in this age group who are online are potentially vulnerable, but those who are online without parental engagement are particularly vulnerable,” the charity said.

The research surveyed 1,500 children aged between 8 and 13 from September to November 2017.

The survey found that 67% of children aged between 8 and 13 own a smartphone and over a quarter (28%) are spending more than two hours per day online, with widespread (69%) use of social media and messaging apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Speaking about the figures, Alex Cooney, CyberSafeIreland’s CEO, said: “Children are exposed to a variety of risks online, as has been highlighted in recent press coverage surrounding some very disturbing cases.

“It is essential that any child who has access to the internet, especially when they are young, only does so with guidance and supervision from a parent or carer.”

Cooney said a national campaign regarding online safety is needed, in a similar vein to campaigns about road safety and healthy eating.

Parents not knowing what their children do online 

Cliona Curley, CyberSafeIreland’s Programme Director, added: “As a nation we really need to get grips with the issue of online safety for children.

We simply cannot continue to have this enormous gap between what children are doing online and what parents know and understand about their children’s online lives.

“Children love technology and there are certainly benefits to that but we must educate both children and parents to manage the many risks that children are exposed to online.”

5 things Source: CyberSafeIreland

Ahead of Safer Internet Day, which is happening today, a leaflet with advice about keeping children safe online – covering privacy and health concerns – was sent to all primary schools across the country.

Separately, students from eight secondary schools around Ireland will attend Facebook’s international headquarters in Dublin today to receive awards for their winning entries to the TackleBullying.ie poster competition.

Pupils designed posters for the anti-bullying website around five central themes: combating bullying, promoting bystanders, combating cyberbullying, combating disablist bullying and LGBT bullying.

Digital age of consent

Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the government’s decision to set the digital age of consent at 13, saying it was based on advice from children’s charities and the Children’s Ombudsman.

However, he said he understands that the issue is a cause of concern for parents.

The digital age of consent, which was agreed by the Cabinet last summer, refers to the age from which it is legal for data controllers to hold data gathered on children and teenagers. For children under the age of 13, parental consent will be required.

It could be argued that 13 has been the de facto age of digital consent for some time in Ireland – it’s the minimum age for setting up a Facebook account, for example. However, the age had to be officially set before the EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on 25 May 2018.

Keeping children safe online has been in the spotlight recently after a number of high profile cases, and Communications Minister Denis Naughten recently said the government is moving towards appointing a Digital Safety Commissioner.

Speaking last week, Varadkar said: “We need to protect our children, that is always the most important thing, and protect them from predators who can now use the internet to get access to children.”

The Taoiseach said Naughten is organising a summit that will be held in March and bring together stakeholders such as the gardaí, education providers and tech companies to “put together a package of measures and make sure that our children are kept safe from people who use the internet to harm them”.

Last month, a Dublin man who possessed thousands of images of child sex abuse and coerced young girls to send him sexually graphic pictures and videos of themselves was jailed for seven-and-a-half years.

Matthew Horan, 26, used Skype, Snapchat, Instagram and Kik, an anonymous instant messaging application, to send and receive the images from six identified child users in Ireland and nine unknown users around the world.

Additional reporting Cianan Brennan

Read: Varadkar says children need to be protected from predators online

Read: Irresponsible or realistic: Is 13 too young for the digital age of consent?

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Órla Ryan

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