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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Shutterstock Some high-profile child protection cases were referenced during today's meeting.
digital age of consent

It should be 'frowned upon' for parents to give young children a smartphone, politicians told

Online experts have been giving evidence before an OIreachtas committee.

AN OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE has heard that it should be “frowned upon” for parents to give a smartphone to their children before a certain age.

The Oireachtas Children & Youth Affairs Committee has been hearing evidence from online experts who said they are “unequivocally” opposed to the digital age of consent being set at 13.

The digital age of consent is the age at which a person can consent to the terms and conditions of online tech companies and service providers.

Speaking before the committee, UCC’s Professor Barry O’Sullivan argued for the digital age of consent to be 16 and emphasised that this should not be conflated with denying children a right to information online.

“An arbitrary statement that every child at 13 is capable of consenting to the terms and conditions of online service providers is problematic given the potential risks that they face,” he said.

O’Sullivan added that “parents and guardians know their child best” and argued that they are the custodians of a child’s safety and welfare.

It was acknowledged in the committee that there is a problem of “peer pressure” for parents surrounding this issue and O’Sullivan said that children in school may be “excluded from the community or bullied” if they do not have a smartphone.

“If there are a cohort of parents giving a smartphone to their children below some ages, that should be frowned upon,” he said.

Dr. Mary Aiken of UCD’s Geary Institute said that she believes it is a “matter of time” before Tusla’s begins dealing with problems of young people being impacted by inappropriate material online.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if a young boy is being exposed to hardcore material as a child then by the time they are 18 they will be damaged,” she said.

Aiken also explained that apps and phones can act “like a giant slot machine” for young people and can be “far more addictive”.

“They’re designed to light up and vibrate and attract your attention. These devices are designed to tap into out psychological Achilles here,” she said.

Read: Nearly 20,000 reports of suspected child abuse were made to Tusla last year >

Read: Author of damning report on gardaí’s child protection record invited to train new recruits >

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