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Online Safety

One in four primary school children report being cyber-bullied in the past year

Over a quarter (26%) of the 5,000 children surveyed had seen or experienced something online in the last year that “bothered” them.

OVER 25% OF primary school aged children have faced cyberbullying in the past year according to a new report.

Posting pictures without permission, creation of fake profiles, and being excluded from chat groups were amongst the commonly reported forms of such behaviour.

Over a quarter of the 5,000 children surveyed had seen or experienced something online in the last year that “bothered” them, defined as content that scared them, upset them or made them wish they hadn’t seen it.

Nearly half of the younger children (46%) didn’t tell a parent or trusted adult about this experience, rising to 67% for secondary school children in this position.

CyberSafeKids, an Irish online safety charity, carried out the research for its Annual Trends and Usage Report and were able to include secondary school children for the first time.

Its chief executive Alex Cooney warned that online safety for children remains a critical issue that is “not being sufficiently addressed” in Ireland’s education system or by the social media companies whose platforms are being used.

“Our data shows children are extremely active on social media, often unsupervised, leaving them highly vulnerable to bullying, grooming, and exposure to violent or sexual content.”

The research also found a “couple of instances” of 8-12 year old boy using the OnlyFans website, which is an 18+ subscription
service and is often associated with creators of adult content.

Up to 40% of secondary school-goers reported being cyber-bullied, with girls overall more likely to be victimised than boys. 

Smartphone ownership is widespread with little difference between primary and second school children – 93% of 8-12 year olds have their own smart device whereas it’s 98% for 12-16 year olds.

The fresh figures follow a call from Health Minister Stephen Donnelly last week for the ban of smartphones in schools because of the negative impact they have on children and teens’ mental health.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of teachers dealt with online safety incidents while 31% of 8-12 year olds are allowed online whenever they want.

The incidence of cyberbullying significantly increases at secondary school (aged 12 to 16) to 40%, with girls more likely than boys to have been victimised online (43% vs 30%).

Young children are also unaware of how best to protect themselves online with 22% posting videos, and 17% unaware of how to manage privacy settings.  


One school principal in Dublin said the figures confirmed the findings of her own teachers.

Carmel Hume, principal of Presentation Primary School, Terenure said staff have found children “feel disempowered” by social media, especially in large group chats.

“They are afraid to leave a group, and afraid to speak up if they see others being ridiculed. We were shocked by the number of children who had access to their smartphones in their bedrooms late at night,” she said.

“Many slept with phones under their pillows. Negative commentary online has become normalised and the nuances of face-to-face communication and engagements are being lost.

“As principal of an all-girls school I worry about the influence of social media on image and body positivity, and I urge parents and guardians to exercise stronger control.”

Young girls are more likely to post videos of themselves online (26% v 18%) according to the report.

The survey by Ireland’s online safety charity of over 5,000 children included secondary school aged children for the first time.

Professor Brian O’Neill of TU Dublin, who is a CyberSafeKids advisor, said children’s online safety is a shared responsibility that requires a “more urgent response” by all.

“Given the fast-changing nature of the digital environment, parents and teachers cannot be expected to manage it without support,” O’Neill said.

Most popular apps

For 8-12 year-olds, YouTube (76%) is the most popular app, followed by WhatsApp (39%), Tik Tok (37%) and Snapchat (37%).

Online gaming is also popular with young children, with 15% playing over-18 games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Boys were more likely to play over-18 games at 28% compared to just 6% of girls.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of 12-16 year-olds said they can go online whenever they want, with 40% posting videos of themselves on social media platforms.

Younger children face more controls at home from parents, but 31% of 8-12 year olds say they are free to go online whenever they want, and 15% of primary school children have no rules in place for going online at home.

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