One-fifth of Irish teens bullied online, survey finds

 

A new survey has found that more than a fifth of Irish teenagers have experienced bullying online.

The study, published by Microsoft, found 22 per cent of teenagers were victims of some form of bullying online, while 4 per cent said they experienced it frequently.

More than half of teenagers surveyed felt the internet made it easier to bully.

Instant messaging was the most common culprit, with 70 per cent of those who were victims of cyber bullying experiencing it while using the chat programmes. Almost half - 48 per cent - were targeted on social networking sites.

However, more than three quarters said they had not reported the behaviour.

The findings were part of a Europe-wide survey of teenagers, published to mark Safer Internet Day 2009.

It found that teenagers are not as concerned with privacy as they should be. Although 70 per cent of Irish teenagers said they had been warned of the risks of being online, more than half admitted that they do not always use privacy settings to restrict who can see their personal information. In contrast, 62 per cent of Portuguese teenagers said they implement the privacy controls, as do 59 per cent of Danish young internet users.

In Ireland, 45 per cent said they would post images and personal information on the internet, and only 11 per cent of teenagers said they never do, compared to 36 per cent of Spanish and Italians.

Separately, a new campaign to encourage young people to report abuse online was launched today by Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Dr Jimmy Devins.

The Watch Your Space campaign provides an online information source at www.watchyourspace.ie and the ISPCC's active listening service TeenTxt.

"We have seen how integral new technologies have become to the lives of young people and how important it is that we educate ourselves about the benefits and dangers they bring," he said.

"Email, instant messaging, texting and Bebo are allowing Irish children to connect with each other and engage with society in ways that were unimaginable just a couple of years ago.

"We are also seeing how the anonymous, instant, and far reaching communication capabilities of the Internet have brought a new dimension to child protection issues such as bullying, anorexia, suicide, and sexual exploitation. In this context we need to ensure that we empower young people to manage the risks inherent in the technology themselves."

The campaign is being backed by the Safer Internet Ireland consortium, including the Office for Internet
Safety, the National Centre for Technology in Education, the ISPCC and the National Parents Council Primary, along with other organisations such as RTE, Sky Media, MTV, Nickelodeon, UPC Ireland, City Channel, Microsoft, Google, Bebo, Eircom, O2, Meteor, The Library Council and Léargas.

According to children's charity Barnardos, its Childhood Poll 2007 identified cyber-bullying as a major concern for both children and parents. The survey also found that mobile phones and websites were being increasingly used to make bullying less visible.

"It is hugely important that children and young people are aware of all supports available if they are experiencing this insidious bullying, including talking to family and friends,” said Barnardos’ chief executive Fergus Finlay.

Only a third of teenagers said they would seek advice from parents when reporting online risks.

“It is important for parents to communicate with their children and to talk to them about Internet safety. Parents need to let their children know that they can come to them if they feel upset or uncomfortable while online," said Childline online manager Margie Roe.

"If a child feels that he/she is being bullied they have a right to tell a parent or a trusted adult like a teacher or a friend.”

But despite awareness campaigns, the Microsoft survey also found 55 per cent of Irish teens have access to the internet without any restrictions from their parents.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan said unmonitored internet access was an emerging trend in Ireland.

“Although they may claim to be aware of the risks when using the internet, teens appear uneducated on the risks," he said. "Vigilance by parents is essential to protect children."

Concerns have been raised recently about the safety of teenagers when it comes to accessing the internet through mobile phones, with access to pornographic content emerging as a worry for parents.

The 2008 survey of children's use of the internet in Ireland, carried out by the NCTE, found that one-fifth of young people would deliberately access adult sites, while a third have accidentally stumbled across them online.