22pc of teens experience online bullying

10 Feb 2009

Some 22pc of Irish teens have experienced bullying online, with four out of 10 experiencing it frequently, according to Microsoft Ireland.

The survey, released to mark EU Internet Safety Day, also found 55pc of teens surf the internet without any restrictions from their parents. 

The research also found that of those teens who have experienced bullying online, seven out of 10 experienced it while instant messaging, and some 48pc were bullied on social-networking sites.

“Today’s teens are living more and more of their life online,” said Paul Rellis, managing director of Microsoft Ireland.

“The advent of social media has helped our children become sophisticated web users, but they still need help and guidance on how to tackle emerging issues such as online bullying.

“The findings reveal worrying gaps in their internet education. We believe education is a vital part of the solution, and the combined efforts of industry, Government, community groups and parents are required to tackle the problem,” Rellis warned.

Just over three quarters (76pc) of those surveyed have never reported online bullying, and half (52pc) believe the internet makes it easier to bully.

The research, which was carried out throughout Europe, revealed that only 11pc of Irish teens never post photos or personal information online, compared to 36pc of Spanish and Italian.

When feeling threatened online, some 38pc of European teenagers said their parents would be their first port of call for advice, with friends (30pc) a close second.

In Ireland, some 33pc turned to their parents, while two fifths (41pc) claim they approached friends first.

“Unmonitored internet access is an emerging trend in Ireland, with 55pc of teens claiming they surf the web without any restrictions from their parents,” said the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD.

“Although they may claim to be aware of the risks when using the internet, teens appear uneducated on the risks. Vigilance by parents is essential to protect children, and I welcome Microsoft’s intervention and efforts to raise awareness of the issue.

“It builds on the valuable work of the makeITsecure campaign, which has sought to promote safe internet use by consumers,” said Minister Ryan.

According to Rellis, education is key and technology companies have a responsibility in this regard. “As a leading provider of social-media services, such as Windows Live and Xbox Live, Microsoft believes it is important to educate children and young people on how to have a fun, responsible and safe web experience.

“We are constantly developing cutting-edge technical solutions and integrating technologies to our products and services to help ensure that children can explore the best of the internet and are protected from the worst,” he said.

Among the advice being issued to parents is the need to encourage children and their friends to look out for each other, and to put family computer and internet-connected game consoles in central locations and keep an eye on children’s online activities.

Parents should ask children what they’re doing online and get specific answers. They should also ask for an ‘online tour’ of the websites their children visit and online activities they participate in.

Parents must also seriously discuss cyberbullying with older kids, who use the internet in multiple locations (sometimes unsupervised outside the home), and make sure children feel comfortable reporting bullying.

They should also promise to report any such incidents on their children’s behalf, if their children want them to – and follow through. Parents are also advised to consider that approaching the bully’s parent, a teacher or other school official may worsen the problem, and therefore strategise the best course accordingly.

Parents and teachers must also lay out clear consequences children will face if they engage in cyberbullying against others.

“It is important for parents to communicate with their children and to talk to them about internet safety,” said Margie Roe, manager of Childline Online.

“Parents need to let their children know that they can come to them if they feel upset or uncomfortable while online. If a child feels that he/she is being bullied, they have a right to tell a parent or a trusted adult, such as a teacher or a friend,” Roe said.

By John Kennedy