Social networking sites have a ‘moral obligation’ to protect the children using them, in particular, from bullying and intimidation according to counsellor and psychotherapist and Clinical Director of STOP Suicide North West, Michelle Fox.
Speaking to the Leitrim Observer earlier this week, Ms Fox said that young people are only forming their identity in their teenage use and this made them especially vulnerable to bullying.
“During this time friends become the new important family for teenagers and the reality is that their main point of contact is through the internet,” she said.
“The problem is that if one person is very popular and they decide they dislike someone, other members of the group may find themselves going along with or participating in bullying even if they don’t agree with it. While in the past children were bullied in the schoolyard, now the bullying is on-line and it’s instantaneous and because children use modern technology to communicate, it’s constant. They simply can’t escape the bullies and we are seeing more and more cases of young people becoming victims and taking their own lives.”
The latest statistics from the Anti-Bullying Centre at Trinity College, Dublin show just how prevalent cyberbullying has become in Ireland with one in four girls and one in six boys in Ireland admitting they have been a victim, a bully or both.
Many parents and children don’t know what to do when faced with bullying, but a joint initiative by the Office for Internet Safety, 02, the National Centre for Technology in Education and Barnardos, has produced a special booklet: A guide to Cyberbullying - Get With It’, in a bid to raise awareness of the issue and the proper avenues to deal with it.
STOP Suicide North West’s Michelle Fox said that it is vital that parents remain vigilant and she encouraged parents and guardians to monitor social networking sites that their children are using and to also regularly sit down and as a family and discuss what is happening in their children’s lives and what to do if they are being bullied.
She said that believed cyberbullying should be a criminal offence and said it was essential that social networking sites should put in place proper reporting procedures so that victims of bullying could report incidents and this information would be followed up.
“It is not good enough for social networking sites to open themselves to children and then leave them vulnerable to bullies. Sites like ask.fm have a moral responsibility to protect the children using their sites and it’s not good enough for any social network to wash their hands of cyberbullying. No child should commit suicide as a result of cyberbullying,” she said.
Earlier this year Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald acknowledged the impact of cyberbullying was “desperately damaging.
“We already have high suicide rates and it’s the most vulnerable that will be hurt,” she said in an interview.
The Minister has promised that cyberbullying will be prioritised in the new Children and Young People’s Policy being prepared by her Department.
The Leitrim Observer is conducting an on-line poll of readers to see the extent of the problem locally. Visit our website www.leitrimobserver.ie and complete our poll.
Anyone who is needs to talk to someone, whether you are suffering stress, depression or anxiety, or if you are being bullied on line or in your workplace can contact STOP on (086) 777 2009 for free and confidential counselling. STOP has qualified counsellors and psychotherapists serving every county in the North West.
The organisation is also preparing to launch a special website www.stopsuicide.ie