Bans on smartphones for children were being rowed back on internationally, and in other countries they were being reintroduced “in a mediated and moderated way”, a conference was told.
The annual women in media conference in Ballybunion Co Kerry heard how children regarded on line activity as part of life, but they too were concerned for their own safety on line.
A single body needed to be set up along the lines of the Road Safety Authority to issue guidelines on digital use and a dialogue needed be opened with children and young people on what they wanted, the panel discussion chaired by Siobhán Creaton of the Royal College of Physicians, was told.
Grania Long, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children( ISPCC) said children were increasingly at risk online and wanted to be listened to.
A school near Tralee, Co Kerry had introduced a ban on smart phones and social media apps outside school hours, with the full support of parents, the conference was reminded .
This was after “issues” with messaging groups outside of school with children in sixth class.
The content of some of the groups in which the children were involved shocked parents and teachers
Asked about the smartphone ban Ms Long said it was very difficult for school principals dealing with the issue.
“I would ask how involved were the children and young people, and were their views taken account of,” she said.
There should not be unlimited access for children and she agreed with setting boundaries.
However, it was not fully understood the extent to which technology and access online enables a child’s education, Ms Long said.
“A lot of countries had made those decisions (banning online use) and are now reintroducing in a moderated and mediated way,” she said.
National guidelines were needed so that individual schools wouldn’t feel “so completely at sea,” Ms Long said calling for an office for a digital safety commission.
Social media personality James Kavanagh said he was a bit of a "positive Pamela" on the social media debate. He said a lot of the problems were simple enough to resolve. Empathy, listening, a bit of love and understanding were common threads of the debate.
“Social media and smartphones aren’t the problem. It’s the people who abuse them,” he said.
Dr Mairead Foody of Dublin City University (DCU) said taking devices off children was "knee-jerk" reaction. Research showed this had no real effect on cyber bullying.
Education for parents and for children about navigating online was needed.
Research to be published soon by her department found 14 per cent of 15 to 18 year olds who had posted a sexual image of themselves to a boyfriend, “consensually,” found that image shared non-consensually online.
Dr Foody said of that group half told nobody and almost half again spoke to a friend. Only 1 to 2 per cent told an adult.
“We really, really need to open a dialogue with our young people and get them to tell us the challenges they face with what undoubtedly will be a future online, no matter what we do about it,” Dr Foody said.